Youth Pastor’s Affair with Teen Results in More Than 160 Charges
A 35-year-old youth pastor in New Paris, PA, whose seven-month-long affair with a 15-year-old student resulted in her becoming pregnant, now faces more than 160 charges of sexual assault. Wesley Blackburn, a married father of five and youth pastor at the Faith Brethren Bible Church, reportedly confessed the relationship to his wife and asked for a divorce. Upon learning of these events, church officials immediately fired Blackburn and alerted police. Blackburn was arrested and at last report was being held in the Bedford County Jail pending $200,000 bail.
According to the New York Daily News, Blackburn faces 84 felony counts of statutory sexual assault, 84 misdemeanor counts of indecent assault and one felony count of corruption of minors.
Under the Pennsylvania Code § 3122.1, statutory sexual assault is a “felony of the first degree when that person engages in sexual intercourse with a complainant under the age of 16 years and that person is 11 or more years older than the complainant and the complainant and the person are not married to each other.” The age difference in Blackburn’s case is 19 or 20 years, so each count is punishable by imprisonment for 10 to 20 years.
Misdemeanor indecent assault is covered in § 3126. Because the illegality of the act is based on the girl’s age rather than any force, compulsion, or intoxicants allegedly used, the charges are all second-degree misdemeanors. If Blackburn is convicted, each count could draw a sentence of two years.
Mr. Blackburn is facing about 200 years in jail, a daunting prospect. However, a criminal case is not about what the state can charge but what a prosecutor can prove. The 84 counts of each charge would seem to be based on an estimate of 12 offenses per month over a seven-month period. Juries convict based on evidence, not estimates. The state’s case may come down to one provable incident, based on the date of conception.
Defendants in criminal cases should understand that overcharging is a common tactic prosecutors employ to leverage confessions. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help a defendant keep a prosecutor’s tactics in perspective and prevent the defendant from saying anything that might jeopardize his case. In this case, Mr. Blackburn seems unlikely to escape conviction for one count of sexual assault, but without his cooperation, that might be all the state can prove.