2 Faces of Arlington Minister on Display in Sex Assault Trial

By Anthony Spangler
August 2, 2006

Fort Worth - The two faces of Terry Hornbuckle were the focus of attorneys' opening statements today in the Arlington minister's sexual assault trial.

Prosecutors portray Hornbuckle as a self-proclaimed bishop who "prayed with women, then preyed upon them," using his position in the church, and occasionally date-rape drugs, to gain the women's trust and have sex with them.

But his defense attorney, Mike Heiskell, described his client as a prosperity minister who became "too full of himself" and had an insatiable sexual appetite that led to consensual relationships with his accusers.

"Behind closed doors, he called himself a lover, a playboy," Heiskell said of Hornbuckle. "He is guilty of being an unfaithful husband, and unfaithful father, and an unfaithful servant of God."

Hornbuckle, 44, faces three charges of sexual assault in the alleged rapes of three women. A jury of nine women and four men, including one alternate, is hearing the case in Judge Scott Wisch's 372nd District Court.

Hornbuckle is bishop of Agape Christian Fellowship in Arlington - once a 2,500-member congregation that he started 1986 as Victory Temple Church meeting in a Dairy Queen. Authorities began investigating Hornbuckle after three female parishioners filed a personal injury, civil lawsuit against the pastor in 2004. The lawsuit also named Agape and its church board members.

The women, members of Hornbuckle's prosperity ministry, allege that he used his position to gain their trust and then sexually assaulted them. In two cases, the women say he used date-rape drugs to overpower them.

Assistant District Attorney Betty Arvin accused Hornbuckle of using his charisma and spiritual leadership to lure women into inappropriate situations.

"There is the handsome, charming public face of Terry Hornbuckle. And there is the private face who committed sexual assault," she said in opening statements today. "The testimony of these women will expose his abuse of office, drugs and trust. What he did is criminal."

Hornbuckle, dressed in a dark gray suit and light blue shirt, pleaded not guilty to the charges, looking directly at jurors each time, nodding his head forward once each time he denied a charge. During the opening statements of his trial, he sat taking notes, occasionally adjusting his tie and wiping the back of his closely-shaved head. Most of the time, he rested his chin on his left hand in a pensive pose.

The trial was delayed when one juror called in sick. It also took court bailiffs some time to settle the observers in the packed courtroom. At least two dozen people waited in the hallway who could not fit inside.

Hornbuckle was first arrested in March 2005, after a lengthy investigation by authorities, and indicted on sexual assault charges involving the women who filed civil suits.

Authorities also say they found a small amount of methamphetamine in his SUV.

Hornbuckle conducted a news conference at a north Arlington hotel with his attorney, calling the charges "frivolous" and accused the women of trying to extort money from him and his church.

"I am unequivocally and emphatically innocent of all these charges," he said.

During the next two years Hornbuckle was released from jail five times and re-arrested after each release - three times for either failing or refusing a drug test as a condition of his release on bail.

Court records show that Hornbuckle spent at least two stints in drug rehabilitation programs only to later fail or refuse drug tests, causing violations of his release.

Prompted by new allegations by two other women, Hornbuckle was re-arrested after prosecutors filed additional sexual assault charges against him.

Shortly after prosecutors began building their case in April 2005, Hornbuckle was a guest on a Dallas gospel radio station denying any wrongdoing and answering callers' questions about the case.

That prompted District Judge James Wilson to impose a gag order in the case. Wilson was later removed from the case at the request of Hornbuckle's attorneys, who said that the judge made inappropriate remarks about the case. Court records do not indicate exactly what was said by Wilson, who lost a re-election bid in this year's primary.

District Judge Scott Wisch was appointed to the case in December 2005.

Altogether, Hornbuckle faces five charges of sexual assault, possession of a controlled substance, tampering with a witness and bribery of a witness. The witness-related charges stem from testimony during the initial grand jury proceedings.

Anthony Spangler, (817) 390-7420


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.