TULSA, Okla. (AP) — A former janitor at a Tulsa megachurch who admitted to sex crimes against three girls told his victims Wednesday that “no one’s perfect” in an statement in which he pointed to Scripture just before a judge sentenced him to 55 years in prison.
A 13-year-old girl who was raped by Chris Denman sobbed in the first row of the courtroom as the judge handed down the sentence. The scandal at Victory Christian Center also ensnared five other church employees who are accused of waiting to report the August rape in a church stairwell.
Denman faced up to life in prison after pleading guilty to raping the 13-year-old, molesting a 15-year-old girl and propositioning a 12-year-old. It wasn’t clear if all three girls were in the courtroom Wednesday, but when the judge gave Denman an opportunity to speak, Denman directed his statement to them.
Denman apologized to the girls, then summarized a Bible verse in which Jesus said, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”
“No one’s perfect,” the 20-year-old Denman said. “I’ll admit to everything I did. I want to go to prison.”
Tulsa County District Judge Bill Musseman told Denman and the family and friends of the victims in attendance that the punishment “must be severe” because of the nature of the crimes against the girls. Musseman also sentenced Denman to five years of probation and $12,000 in fines.
Victims and family members sobbed and held each other as prosecutors read statements from two of the girls’ mothers. The mother of the 13-year-old said in her statement that her daughter had lost her childhood and that her girl’s sense of safety had been shattered as a result of the sexual assault.
Among those accused of waiting to report the rape are the son and daughter-in-law of the ministry’s co-founder and senior pastor.
Denman pleaded in October guilty to first-degree rape, forcible oral sodomy of a child, lewd molestation, making a lewd proposal to a child and two counts of using a computer to facilitate a sex crime. He did not have a plea agreement with prosecutors.
A second former employee at the 17,000-member church awaits trial on a charge of making a lewd or indecent proposal to a child.
Denman’s public defender, Tasha Steward, told the judge her client took full responsibility for his crimes. She described Denman’s early childhood in foster homes where he never “got the care he needed to become a whole person and understand the rights and wrongs of this world.”
However, Sarah McAmis, director of the Crimes Against Children Division at the district attorney’s office, asked for a tough sentence, telling the court that Denman used the expected safety of a church environment to meet and solicit his victims.
“He readily admitted he knew the ages of his victims, readily admitted that what he was doing was against the law,” McAmis argued.
McAmis also contended that Denman had failed to show any remorse for his crimes.
“This defendant completely fails to recognize the incredible cowardice of his actions,” she said. “This is a defendant who used his position to basically harass and stalk these girls all for the purposes of his sexual pleasure.”
Denman, seated in the jury box in shackles and wearing gray-and-white jail clothes, occasionally glanced at the girls as he read his statement, but otherwise didn’t look at them. Throughout most of the proceedings, he was stone-faced, staring straight ahead or looking down.
The 13-year-old’s mother is suing Victory Christian Center. Her lawsuit accuses employees of trying to cover up the abuse by not reporting the August rape to the authorities while it did an in-house investigation. She says the church was more interested in damage control and attempting to make her daughter feel as if she was somehow to blame for the assault.
“Those people were family to her, and they told her she was a liar,” the girl’s mother said in an interview with The Associated Press. “In hindsight, I sat there and watched my child suffer and had no idea how to help her,” she said.
The AP generally does not identify victims of sex crimes and is not identifying the mother to protect her daughter’s identity.
Hearings for the five employees accused of not reporting the abuse were rescheduled Wednesday until January.
John and Charica Daugherty, Paul Willemstein, Anna George and Harold “Frank” Sullivan have each pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor count of failing to report the abuse in a timely manner.
In September, after the five church employees were arrested, the ministry issued a statement accepting blame for the delay and vowing to work with the Oklahoma Department of Human Services to audit its reporting policy.
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