Youth pastor guilty of having child porn
A jury nearly deadlocks, but then issues a verdict against Richard Sweat.

By Paul Pinkham,
The Florida Times-Union

May 26, 2007

After 10 hours of deliberation, a nearly deadlocked jury found a Jacksonville youth pastor guilty Friday on two counts of possessing child pornography on his computer.

The jury came to its decision around 6 p.m., but just hours earlier, at 3:30 p.m., a jury foreman told U.S. District Judge Henry Adams that the jury was split and unable to come to a decision in the case against Richard Steven Sweat, former youth pastor at Lake Shore Baptist Church on Blanding Boulevard.

Adams urged the jury to come to a consensus and asked those in the minority, regardless of the side, to reconsider.

According to court documents filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Ronald Henry, Sweat's wife found pornographic files on the computer of their Orange Park home in September 2005. Her father, the senior pastor at Lake Shore, brought in a computer expert to extract the materials, and eventually the FBI was contacted.

Sweat's attorney, Mitchell Stone, argued that his client was framed by his wife and father-in-law to aid her position in a potential divorce. Stone said other people had access to the computer.

Sweat, 35, was arrested in November and was free on his own recognizance. He was scheduled to go on trial May 14, but the case was postponed after he went to the hospital with heart problems.

Stone said he's disappointed the jury found Sweat guilty, despite what he called a lack of evidence. He said he thinks some jurors might have been convinced to change their minds because of the long deliberations.

"Whenever you have such long proceedings, it takes a toll on juries. They get tired and often they are swayed by other members to change their decisions. It's unfortunate and we will appeal," Stone said.

The jury deliberated for about three hours Thursday and at least seven hours Friday. If the jury couldn't come to a decision, a hung jury would have led to a retrial.

Adams remanded Sweat into custody of the U.S. marshals while he awaits sentencing because possession of child pornography is considered a violent crime under the law. Sweat will be sentenced Aug. 23. Each guilty count carries a five-year minimum and a 15-year maximum sentence.

The case deeply divided the Westside church with dozens of Lake Shore members sitting on opposite sides of the courtroom during the trial. Heated words were exchanged between members after the verdict., (904) 359-4107, (904) 359-4247

SNAP Note:  Lake Shore Baptist Church in Jacksonville is shown as an SBC-affiliated church.