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Former pastor sentenced for child molestation
James Russell Rogers - photo by FILE
A judge sentenced the former pastor of Leefield Baptist Church to 75 years, 25 to serve, for child molestation Wednesday.
    James Russell Rogers, 72,  interrupted testimony during a trial Wednesday to confer with his attorney before entering a plea of guilty to two counts of child molestation and one count of enticing a child for indecent purposes.
    Bulloch County Superior Court Judge John R. Turner sentenced Rogers to a total of 75 years - 25 years on each charge to run concurrently, with 25 years to serve.
    A woman whom prosecutors said Rogers molested several years ago was in the middle of her tearful testimony of what she said Rogers – whose son had married the woman's sister – did to her when she was 6 years old, when Rogers muttered to public defender Caleb Baker "That's enough."
    After about 10 minutes of private discussion, Baker and Rogers returned to the courtroom and entered an Alford plea, which is, in essence, a guilty plea.
    An Alford plea is when a person acknowledges that there is sufficient evidence to convict him, but isn't necessarily an admission of guilt.
    Rogers originally entered a "not guilty" plea, and the jury  trial began shorty after 9 a.m. Wednesday, with testimony from the pre-teen girl Rogers was accused of molesting. The jury also heard a taped confession from Rogers regarding a 1987 child molestation case in which he was convicted.
2006 incident
    Rogers, former pastor of Leefield Baptist Church, had returned for a visit in 2006 when he encountered the young victim alone near the church shortly after evening service, said Ogeechee Judicial Circuit Assistant District Attorney Scott Brannen during opening arguments.
    He told jurors about Rogers luring the young victim into a nursery at the church Sept. 17, 2006. The lights were off and he kissed her on the mouth, fondled her privates and told her he was going to divorce his wife and marry her, he said.
    Brannen said Rogers told Bulloch County Sheriffs' Investigator Walter Deal "If I touched her down there it was nonchalant" and said the girl " was always hanging on me."
    The molestation was interrupted by a church worker returning a crib sheet to the nursery.
    Becky Thompson told jurors Rogers was acting strangely as he walked out of the dark nursery. "It was the way he was talking, his actions with his words."
    Rogers told her a girl had been showing him the newly remodeled nursery and wondered where she had gone."He said 'where is she? Did she disappear?'"
    Thompson said she thought Rogers was acting oddly due to medications for health issues until she walked around the nursery and found the young victim on the other side of a half-door that separated the room.
    She turned to look at Rogers, and he was leaving, she said.
    Thompson went to find another church worker with whom the victim was close. Debbie Marotte,  so she could talk about what may have happened, she said. A few minutes later she encountered Rogers with some other church members, and said he commented "She's really grown up into a beautiful girl."'
    Marotte told jurors the child told her about Rogers kissing her on the mouth, but did not want to talk any more about the incident except to ask "Why would he do that?" Marotte promised the child she would not tell her mother immediately, but would pray about it, and told the child she had to tell her mother soon. The child told her mother the next day "on her own," she said.
    "She's a very honest child," she said. "She trusted him. She didn't understand why he would do that."
    The child, whose identity the Statesboro Herald will not disclose, took the stand.
    She told how Rogers put his arms around her waist and led her into the darkened room.
    "He asked me to kiss him and pulled me close," she said. "He put his hands on my hips ... slipped his hands down my leg .. my privates ... it didn't feel real good. he was talking about divorcing his wife and marrying me. I just thought it was a joke." She said he had made the comment to her on several occasions before.
    The victim said when they heard Thompson coming, she took the opportunity to escape from Rogers.
    "I was kind of relieved that somebody was coming," she said when Banks cross-examined her.
    After her testimony, Brannen made a motion to enter the taped confession from the 1987 case and testimony from other previous victims  - "similar transactions." Banks objected, but Turner admitted the submission.
Taped confession
    Rogers served time for a 1987 conviction of seven counts of child molestation involving six victims. He served from June 1987 to October 1990, and was out on unsupervised probation when the Sept. 2006 incident occurred, Brannen said.
    Jurors sat with stricken looks as they listened to the 20-minute tape of Rogers detailing how he molested six girls in McIntosh County.
    He told how he picked up the girls to take to church, and would allow them to sit on his lap while they drove. One girl asked to "guide the car .. sat on my lap .. and that's how the whole thing started," he said on tape.
    In graphic and disturbing detail, Rogers confessed to molesting the girls on several occasions, and "they didn't say anything about it. Nothing was said or done, I guess it was understood that id they got to drive the car, I was going to put my hand down there."
    One girl kept her legs closed and " that was also understood that she didn't want me to do it," he said.
    He also admitted trying to influence the girls' families not to prosecute.
    Jurors and others in the courtroom were visibly upset while listening to Rogers' 1987 confession.
    Brannen said he introduced the tape and testimony from previous victims so the jury would see how Rogers had an issue with sexual misconduct with young girls.
    Beth Dingus took the stand and tearfully told how Rogers, whose son married her sister when Dingus was only six - molested her in the nursery of the church he was pastoring at the time. She had only been on the stand a few moments when Rogers told Baker "That's enough." After a brief discussion outside the courtroom, he came back inside to enter his plea changed from not guilty to the Alford plea of guilty.
    Before doing so, however, he asked to speak to his son.
    "I didn't do it. That's what hurts. What do you think?" he asked.
    After entering the plea, Turner asked Rogers whether he understood the Alford plea. Rogers spoke briefly with Baker before answering "Yes, sir.
    "I'm not going to listen to you say you're not guilty," Turner said, adding that Rogers could make a statement of remorse if he wished.
    "Yes, sir, I am sorry," Rogers said.
    "You should be," Turner replied before handing down the sentence.
    "Let me say I'm sorry for the child, sorry for the child's family, for what this has caused the church, and the anguish it has caused my family," Rogers said.
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