Westside Victory Baptist: Pastor Gets Maximum Sentences


March 8, 2006
Section: Metro
Edition: Tarrant
Page: B5

Jury recommends three life terms for ex-pastor

FORT WORTH, TX — Rejecting defense pleas for probation or a short prison term, a Tarrant County jury recommended that Larry Nuell Neathery serve maximum prison terms on 25 charges of sexually abusing five boys, virtually ensuring that the 56-year-old former Baptist pastor ends his life behind bars. 

The nine-man, three-woman jury deliberated more than three hours Tuesday before recommending that Neathery serve three life sentences and ten 99-year sentences on 13 aggravated-sexual-assault charges, which are first-degree felonies.


Jurors also recommended that he serve nine 20-year sentences and three 10-year sentences for second- and third-degree felony sex crimes.


Judge Mike Thomas sentenced Neathery to serve the 25 prison terms concurrently. That means that he must serve 30 years before he is eligible for parole on the life sentences, prosecutor Rebecca McIntire said.


That mean Neathery, who turns 57 on March 18, has no chance of walking out of prison before he turns 87.


The former pastor of a River Oaks Baptist church still maintains his innocence, his attorneys said.

"He really thought they'd give him probation," defense attorney Leon Haley said. "Remember, he wanted me to make sure the jury understood he was maintaining his innocence. He felt a few things he did in his past life would mitigate him being sent to the penitentiary even though they convicted him."


After filling out paperwork to appeal his conviction, Neathery mouthed, "I love you, Mary," to his wife as he was taken back to jail, Haley said.


In closing arguments Tuesday, Haley said a 20-year prison term would be a "death sentence" to someone Neathery's age. He urged jurors to consider granting him probation or assessing a sentence of 10 to 20 years.


But the jury that took less than an hour Monday to decide that Neathery molested five boys, including three young relatives and two neighbors over six years, apparently didn't want him free to prey on other boys, Haley said.


"They had an option: Believe him or believe the children," he said. "They believed the children.

"I think the jury's verdict reflected the fact that they bought into the state's theory that he'd be a continuing threat to the community if he got out. They didn't want that to happen."


Co-prosecutor Mitch Poe said Neathery was "worse than a wolf in sheep's clothing" — he was "a shepherd" who betrayed children and parents into thinking him trustworthy.


McIntire and Poe said they were pleased at the maximum sentences.


"All the families have lived with this so long," McIntire said. "The 99-year and life sentences were richly deserved."


Besides being abused, she said, Neathery's victims were ostracized by members of Westside Victory Baptist Church, where Neathery was pastor when the abuse occurred. The congregation, including Neathery's family, initially rallied around the pastor.


"This is vindication for the victims," McIntire said. "The jury believed them 100 percent. The verdict speaks louder than anyone could say."


But the verdict did not ease tension among Neathery's family, friends and members of his former congregation.


After a 28-year-old man testified Tuesday that Neathery had attempted to molest him when he was a teenager and later sexually assaulted him when the man was an adult, Neathery exchanged angry words with his wife and other relatives during a break in the trial.


As he did so, his brother, who had testified outside the jury's presence about their father's abuse, approached the group. Neathery angrily accused relatives of being "a bunch of liars," prompting court bailiffs to return him to a holding cell.


Haley said Neathery was upset that he had been convicted and believed that relatives, including the boys who he says lied about the abuse, had betrayed him. He also said his brother lied about how their father abused them.


But Ray Neathery maintains that the abuse occurred then and more recently.


"It's got to stop somewhere, and it's stopped now," he said. "Parents need to be aware that this stuff goes on. Our family is going to work together to help children be able to speak so that people will listen.


"Without a doubt, I'll speak out as a victim. It's about the children and other children."


The Rev. Ron Bridges, who succeeded Neathery as pastor at Westside Victory Baptist, said the church will survive and support Neathery if it can.


"We believe in God, and he's a friend," Bridges said. "Jesus had compassion and forgiveness and so do we.


"There were a lot of lies up there. It's devastating [to the church], but we don't depend on [Neathery]. We depend on Jesus."


Martha Deller, (817) 390-7857 mdeller@star-telegram.com