BENTON, Ark. (ABP) – A former music minister at an Arkansas Baptist church convicted of sexually abusing children has been granted parole, according to media sources.
David Pierce, 59, won release from prison after serving two years and four months of a 10-year sentence for four counts of sexual indecency with a child. The cases involved three now-adult boys who claimed abuse by Pierce, whom they regarded a spiritual mentor at First Baptist Church in Benton, Ark.
Pierce was originally charged with 54 counts of sexual indecency with multiple boys active in youth choirs during his 29 years as music minister at the 2,500-member congregation affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, but he accepted a plea bargain rather than stand trial. The Saline County prosecutor said he accepted the deal to spare victims the trauma of testifying in court.
One of those victims, who blogs anonymously at Descent from Darkness, wrote Jan. 31 that he expected the news and thought he was prepared to handle it, but he was wrong.
“I'm disgusted. I'm heartbroken. I'm terrified knowing he will do it again when he gets out,” he posted after hearing news of Pierce’s parole from the Arkansas Parole Board. “This is hard to stomach not just as a victim, but as a father. I can't imagine a monster like David being free in our community again.”
According to Little Rock television station KTHV-11, stipulations of Pierce’s parole require that he seek residency outside the state. If he ever chooses to return to Arkansas, he may not live within 50 miles of Saline County or have contact with the victims or their families.
The crimes to which Pierce confessed are non-discretionary, meaning the parole board could not deny parole without recommending a particular course of action.
While in prison Pierce completed mental evaluation and was diagnosed as a Level 3 sex offender. That is the next-to-highest designation and is used for offenders with a history of repeat offending and/or “strong anti-social, violent or predatory personality characteristics.”
Arkansas is one of a number of states since the 1990s to move to mandatory instead of discretionary paroles, ensuring that sentences for the same crime carry the same length of incarceration. Arkansas allows discretionary parole only in serious crimes including homicide, kidnapping, rape, aggravated robbery and sexual assault in the first and second degree.
“We’re very worried that this convicted child predator is being released so quickly and will soon again be around unsuspecting families,” said David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. Clohessy said that Pierce’s church kept him on the job for three months after he admitted to sexual abuse. “That tells us he’s a charismatic guy, precisely the most dangerous kind of child predator,” he said.
Amy Smith, a Baptist who serves as a SNAP representative in Houston, said Pierce’s release from prison makes it “critical” that anyone who saw, suspected or suffered sex crimes by Pierce come forward. “The light of truth and knowledge is our most important tool in protecting kids,” she said.
While Pierce was awaiting sentencing in August 2009, an inch-thick stack of letters flooded into the Saline County prosecutor’s office urging leniency for the beloved and trusted church staff member. A former president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention wrote a letter asking that Pierce not go to prison, fearing that because of health problems and the nature of his offense he would never make it out alive.
As parole hearings began less than two years into Pierce’s sentence, however, church members told media they felt betrayed and weren’t ready for his release. "Being a member of the church, and going through that with them, I don't think it's time yet," Saline County Sheriff Bruce Pennington, a member of First Baptist who arrested Pierce personally in April 2009, told Little Rock’s Fox affiliate a year ago. “As the Bible says, we're supposed to forgive. And I'm hoping everyone can forgive. But do you forget that easily? I don't think so."
Bob Allen is managing editor of Associated Baptist Press.