Pastor Acquitted in Teen Sex Case
By Ben Penserga
August 12, 2006
Salisbury — A Salisbury pastor accused of having a sexual relationship with an underage girl in his congregation was acquitted of all charges Friday in Wicomico County Circuit Court.
A jury found Joshua Lawson, 30, of Salisbury not guilty of sexual abuse of a minor and engaging in a perverted practice following a two-day trial. The decision came after about 30 minutes of deliberation.
"We were surprised how quickly it came, but we were not surprised about the verdict," said Lawson's attorney, Stephanie Shipley.
Lawson, pastor of New Life the Apostolic Church, was charged by police in February with allegedly having sex with a then 16-year-old girl for several months starting in August 2005.
For nearly three hours Thursday, the teenager -- now 17 -- testified Lawson allegedly made sexual advances toward her Aug. 4, 2005, while she baby-sat his two children while his wife was out of town. The alleged victim said encounter started a relationship in which the two reportedly had sex 15 to 20 times during the next few months through fake baby-sitting assignments.
The allegations did not come to the police until January, after she told her parents.
For the last two days, Wicomico County State's Attorney Davis Ruark and Assistant State's Attorney Elizabeth Ireland presented a case claiming Lawson allegedly took advantage of the alleged victim as a pastor in a church she had attended for 12 years.
"He speaks well, he looks nice and comes across well," he said. "But he also comes across as slick."
However, Lawson denied all the charges, saying he never made any moves that might be misinterpreted by the alleged victim.
"In my church, we don't even hug the women," he said. "We just shake hands."
Shipley theorized that the girl's accusations were an off-shoot of family problems she had at the time and Lawson -- who had advised the girl's parents about her situation -- then became a target.
Shipley also questioned the alleged victim's inconsistent testimony, pointing out that she could not provide a lot of specific details about her first reported encounter or any of the subsequent ones.
"I counted 84 times where she said, 'I don't know, I can't remember,' " Shipley told the jury in her closing argument.
Still, Ruark pointed out that the girl's age contributed to her recollection of all the alleged events. He also mentioned that the alleged victim had nothing to gain through coming forward to police.
After the verdict, the alleged victim and her family and friends wept in the courtroom.
Ruark said he was disappointed with the case's result; Shipley said she thought the jury made the right choice.
"I think justice prevailed," she said.
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