Hartford City -- Joseph Glenn Pennington’s victim wasn’t at his sentencing hearing Monday, but her feelings about the former youth pastor came through loud and clear.
In a sometimes scathing letter read by her mother, the teen recounted how Pennington, at the time the youth leader at her church, “took my first kiss (and) my virginity” when she was 15.
Pennington, 33, of Hartford City, pleaded guilty to sexual misconduct with a minor, a Class B felony carrying a standard four-year sentence.
He was sentenced to eight years in prison, the maximum penalty under the terms of a plea agreement. Blackford Circuit Court Judge Dean Young — who actually imposed a 15-year sentence with seven years suspended — said he would have imposed a longer prison term if he could have.
Last December, Pennington was dismissed from his part-time duties as director of youth ministries at Hartford City Wesleyan Church. In a statement, the church’s senior pastor later said Pennington had made a “regrettable choice” with “tragic consequences.”
Pennington had joined the church’s staff in 2010, and the charge he pleaded guilty to referred to sex acts that took place between October 2010 and October 2011.
In her letter, the victim said Pennington began “brainwashing me when I was 14,” and said their relationship reached the point that they were planning a life together and discussing what they would name their children.
“It seems ridiculous now,” she wrote. “I didn’t know what love was. … I thought Joe Pennington was my life.”
The girl said her secret dealings with Pennington strained her relationships with her parents and had a negative impact on her school work.
“I wonder how many young girls’ lives Joe Pennington could have destroyed if I hadn’t brought it to light,” she added.
Both the girl and her mother — who called her daughter’s relationship with the youth pastor “toxic” — credited their faith with helping them move past the situation.
“Joe, I do forgive you,” the mother told Pennington, “but it was wrong.”
Pennington offered his apologies to the girl’s family.
“I would like to say that I’m deeply sorry for what I’ve done,” he said. “I know I’ve caused hurt. I know I’ve caused pain.”
Some of the defendant’s family members, including his wife, took the stand to say he was a good father.
Judge Young called Pennington’s actions “heinous” and noted the teen was “repeatedly victimized” over a period of several months.
“If it were up to me, I would give you more than the (eight-year executed sentence),” he told Pennington.
The judge said he would wait for a psychiatrist’s report to rule on whether Pennington is a sexually violent predator, a classification that could restrict where the former pastor can live upon his release from prison.
A psychologist who examined Pennington believes he fits the criteria for that classification, Young said.
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