Pastor Guilty of Sex Assault
Hornbuckle Could Get Probation or up to 20 Years in Rapes of 3 Women

By Jeff Mosier
The Dallas Morning News
August 23, 2006

Fort Worth Terry Hornbuckle bowed slightly and church members held hands as a judge announced Tuesday that the Arlington minister was guilty of sexually assaulting three women.

The Tarrant County jury's verdict ended more than 33 hours of deliberations spanning a week. Jurors began hearing testimony shortly afterward to determine whether Mr. Hornbuckle deserves probation or two to 20 years in prison for his crimes. The sentences will run concurrently.

"I think that the evidence was strong, and the defendant was guilty," prosecutor Sean Colston said after the verdict was announced. "That's what turned the case."

Mr. Colston said that anything less than the maximum sentence would be inappropriate for Mr. Hornbuckle, founder of Agape Christian Fellowship church. Two of his victims were church members, and one testified that she was a virgin when the minister drugged and raped her shortly after her 21st birthday.

Defense attorney Mike Heiskell said that he never argues with the jury's decision but that he would try to convince them that probation is a fair sentence. Mr. Hornbuckle has no prior criminal record.

"We hope the jury will see the redemptive side of Terry Hornbuckle," Mr. Heiskell said.

The three women all testified that Mr. Hornbuckle drugged them. Two said they were raped either while they were blacked out or groggy from a drug.

One of the victims tested positive for benzodiazepine, a class of drug that can cause drowsiness and amnesia.

Defense attorneys argued during the trial that Mr. Hornbuckle was a "playboy" outside the pulpit and that any extramarital sex was consensual.

Mr. Hornbuckle's wife, Renee, who is now senior pastor at Agape, declined through a spokesman to comment after the verdict. Charles Richardson, chairman of the Agape board of directors, said church officials would make a statement after the trial ends.

Mrs. Hornbuckle, who sat through the entire trial including testimony about her husband's womanizing and drug use sat ramrod straight when the verdict was read by state District Judge Scott Wisch.

The handful of church members remaining in the courtroom held hands, a common practice during Agape services. Mr. Richardson grasped Mrs. Hornbuckle's shoulder and murmured: "I'm sorry. I'm really sorry."

In accordance with Judge Wisch's warnings, there was no crying or other overt display of emotion in the audience when the verdict was read. Church members had filled the courtroom at the beginning of the three-week trial, but the number had dwindled to barely more than a half-dozen at the end.

Leon Haley, one of Mr. Hornbuckle's attorneys, said this week he was hopeful of a not-guilty verdict. He said that a lawyer's rule of thumb is that the longer a jury deliberates, the better the chance that it will find the defendant not guilty.

The prosecutors, defense attorneys and judge said they had never participated in a case in which a jury deliberated so long.

Jurors began discussing the cases about 4:15 p.m. the previous Tuesday. They sent 41 notes to the judge asking to look at evidence, requesting legal definitions and calling for copies of testimony.

Judge Wisch said this week that there was no indication that the jury was deadlocked despite the large number of notes and long deliberations. About 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, the jury sent its 42nd note, saying that it had reached a unanimous verdict.

For two weeks, the jury listened to sordid and sometimes explicit testimony about the three separate rape cases.

The first victim, a longtime Agape member, told jurors that her mistake was trusting the man who baptized her. The woman said Mr. Hornbuckle lured her to a Euless apartment, where he fed her drugged punch after she rejected his repeated requests to "get her drink on."

After waking up naked, she tried to get dressed but was held down by Mr. Hornbuckle and raped, she said.

The second victim, who used the pseudonym Jane Doe on the witness stand, said that Mr. Hornbuckle began counseling her when her boyfriend left. She said she didn't want to have sex with the minister but that he exploited her emotional vulnerability and his position of authority.

The third victim, whose pseudonym was Kate Jones, was not an Agape church member. She said she met Mr. Hornbuckle at a Bedford health club, where he used a fake name and claimed to be a counselor for Dallas Cowboys rookies and a former NFL player.

She testified that she and Mr. Hornbuckle smoked methamphetamine before he drugged and raped her in her home.

The punishment phase started late Tuesday afternoon with testimony about a glass pipe, lighter and bag of methamphetamine in Mr. Hornbuckle's Cadillac Escalade after he was arrested.

Mr. Heiskell noted that there has already been testimony about Mr. Hornbuckle's drug problems, and he called his client a "meth addict."

Mr. Hornbuckle's bail was revoked twice for failing drug tests and once for failing to provide a urine sample for a drug test. He has been held in the Tarrant County jail since March without bail.

Testimony will continue at 9 a.m. today.

Staff writer Laurie Fox contributed to this report.



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