Pierce's family attends parole hearing for Benton sex offender

The Benton Courier

January 26 , 2011

Eight members of David Pierce’s family and his lawyer, Mark Hampton of Little Rock, attended a parole hearing Tuesday morning at the Ouachita River Unit of the Arkansas Department of Correction in Malvern, where the former minister of music of First Baptist Church is incarcerated.

A member of The Saline Courier staff attempted to attend the proceeding but was denied access based on the wishes of Pierce and his attorney.

A representative of the correctional facility presented the reporter with a document, signed by Pierce, expressing his decision that the hearing would be closed.

According to Department of Correction officials, this is standard operating procedure for the Parole Board. Others, however, have questioned the legality of the practice.

Tom Larimer, director of Arkansas Press Association, says the Parole Board violated the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act.

“We have researched state law to find an exemption and contacted attorney John Tull of Little Rock, who is the foremost authority on the FOI in Arkansas,” Larimer said.

There is no exemption in the act for this kind of thing, according to Larimer.

“If that ever happens again, we want to ask the parole board on what authority they’re closing the meeting because there is no authority,” he added.

“We understand that this is the practice of the parole board, but it is an unlawful practice,” Larimer contends.

“John Tull cannot find any authority nor precedent for ever doing this before, and it’s his opinion that this was done in violation of the FOIA,” Larimer added.

Pierce, now 58, was convicted on Aug. 28, 2009, of four counts of sexual indecency with a child after confessing to the crimes before Saline County Judge Grisham Phillips in Saline County Circuit Court.

He previously had denied the charges after first being arrested on April 24 2009, on one count of sexual indecency with a child and then released on bond. He was arrested a second time when 53 additional child felony accounts were added. He later was released on a second bond agreement and the number of counts was eventually reduced to four. The statute of limitations had run on several of the incidents, authorities said.

As part of a negotiated plea, Pierce drew a 10-year term with the Arkansas Department of Correction. The sentence actually was two six-year terms to run concurrently and two four-year terms to run concurrently, followed by an additional term of two years’ suspended imposition of sentence.

Upon his release from prison, Pierce will be required to register as a sex offender and will be listed as a habitual offender, said Prosecuting Attorney Ken Casady.

The four felony counts involve three separate victims who were former members of First Baptist Church’s Pure Energy youth choir, which Pierce directed.

The activity that occurred dates back as far as 20 years, authorities have said, but the statute of limitations had passed on many of the incidents. The incidents occurred “in and around the rural areas of Saline County and also occurred in the church,” Sheriff Bruce Pennington said.

The initial complaints about Pierce were filed with the Saline County Department of Human Services, authorities reported. That department then contacted the Arkansas State Police’s Crime Against Children Unit, which assisted in the investigation.

According to documents from the case file assembled by Detective Alison Hoskins of the Sheriff’s Office, for much of the two decades preceding his arrest, Pierce used his position of authority and trust over young boys as their choir director or voice coach to involve them in his own sexual gratification.

Court records noted that Pierce would “groom boys as young as 11 or 12” by taking an extra interest in their participation in youth choir. During the years of Pierce’s tutelage, he would entangle discussions of a sexual nature with the boys’ choir participation.

As the boys reached puberty, Pierce introduced them to a process he called “charting,” the case file noted. In this process, Pierce convinced the boys that in order for them to progress in the areas of voice and choir that he needed to take measurements of their bodies, including their genitals. Pierce kept records of these measurements through the years.

After Pierce introduced the boys to charting, which reportedly was done on a legal pad, he commonly would have the boys masturbate in front of him, the case file noted. It also noted that often he would “then expose himself to the boys and masturbate.”

The incidents would occur at the church or wherever Pierce could get the boys alone, according to the case file.

One of the victims told authorities that Pierce took him to a cabin in a county location where, in addition to the charting, he also spoke with him about sexual activities, such as masturbation. Pierce allegedly told the teenager that he had a “strong bond with all past presidents in the student ministry and would do ‘charting’ with them,” the records showed.

At the time Pierce was informed by church leaders that he was being terminated from the minister of music position he had held for 29 years, he reportedly apologized to the leaders as well as the church body for his behavior. Part of the letter, which was included in court records, stated: “I feel that it is important for you to know that while I fully acknowledge the sinfulness and immorality of my past behavior, I did not engage in actual sexual contact (specifically oral sex, intercourse or masturbating another individual) with any person, nor do I believe that in recent conversation with legal counsel that I have violated criminal or civil law.”

In last week’s hearing, Saline County Prosecutor Ken Casady officially objected to Pierce’s release or transfer from the Department of Correction. The letter Casady wrote to the Parole Board included the following:

 “According to the Risk Assessment and Offender Profile Report, Pierce has been diagnosed as a Level 3 Sex Offender. He fits this designation because he is a repeat sexual offender with a strong antisocial, predatory personality.”

 Casady said the assessment determined that Pierce has shown little willingness to accept responsibility and work toward change. He said he also exhibits “remarkable lack of acknowledged insight into the compulsivity, predation, premeditation, and deviancy of his behavior.”

The letter noted that Pierce avoided punishment for the vast majority of his deviant, criminal behavior.

“In his assessment, Pierce admitted to abusing 11 boys for his own sexual gratification,” the letter stated.
Casady’s office was able to prosecute Pierce for only a handful of his crimes, but he noted that “in all likelihood there were a number of minors that were so emotionally disturbed by his conduct that they never came forward to report the abuse. It is also likely that a number of adult victims were too embarrassed to talk about the abuse they had suffered as children at the hands of their minister.”

Noting that sex offenders appear before the board frequently, Casady’s letter pointed out that “Pierce is different because of his education, charm, command of Scripture and need for attention.”

In anticipation of this week’s hearing, Casady said in the letter, “I am sure you will hear from Pierce and good upstanding people, possibly even youth that he taught, about what a great person he was and what a great ministry he had. That is one of the more twisted aspects of this case. All the while he was a sham, ministering to parents and a congregation, inspecting which sheep to cull from the flock.

“The psychological impact of his crimes is wide ranging,” Casady’s missive stated. “He undermined parents’ trust, a church’s trust, a mentor relationship, a teacher-student relationship, teenagers’ normal sexual development and children’s faith in God.”

Casady’s letter contended that Pierce “deserves every bit of the 10-year sentence he received and accepted” and asked the parole board to “please make him spend as much of it as you legally can.”

Casady’s letter also noted that the length of Pierce’s sentence reflected the fact that many of his victims did not want to testify at a trial. “Though some were ready to testify against him, others were too embarrassed and ashamed to talk about what had happened to them. They did not wish to answer prying questions regarding how Pierce manipulated them into masturbating with him at choir practice.”

Department of Correction officials have not said when a decision will be announced regarding Pierce’s possible parole.


SBP note: First Baptist Church in Benton, Arkansas is as an SBC-affiliated church.

See also:

The fall of man, Arkansas Times, 10/1/09

Pierce victim speaks out, Benton Courier, 8/28/09

Pierce convicted, gets 10 years, Benton Courier, 6/27/09

Pierce expected to enter plea, Benton Courier, 6/26/09

David Pierce trial rescheduled, Benton Courier, 6/9/09

Pierce due in court again, Benton Courier, 6/8/09

Pierce's charges growing, Benton Courier, 5/6/09

Judge to Pierce: No contacts, Benton Courier, 4/28/09

3 more claim abuse by former minister, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 4/28/09

Pierce set for bond hearing, Benton Courier, 4/27/09

Benton Choir Minister Arrested for Sexual Indecency with a Child, KTHV-TV, 4/25/09

Prominent Ark. music minister arrested for indecency with minor, Associated Baptist Press, 4/27/09

Baptist church sticking by pastor facing sex charges, Associated Baptist Press, 5/7/09

SNAP statement: Sex abuse victims prod Baptist church's prior leaders to search consciences, 4/30/09