Tuscon, Arizona - A jury in Tucson, Ariz., convicted a former youth minister at a Southern Baptist church Aug. 19 of molesting a 13-year-old girl over the course of a year.
According to the Arizona Daily Star, jurors deliberated nearly eight hours over two days at the end of a week-long trial in Pima County Superior Court before finding Christopher Decaire guilty of six charges of molestation and sexual misconduct. Decaire
The girl, now 15, testified that Decaire molested her between January 2007 and January 2008 while he served as youth minister of East Tucson Baptist Church. She told jurors that "something happened pretty much every Wednesday," the night the youth group met.
Decaire's lawyer questioned DNA evidence and tried to convince the jury that the girl fabricated the story.
In the end, however, a phone conversation between Decaire and the girl that was secretly recorded by police swayed the jury.
"All of us in SNAP applaud this young girl for speaking up and testifying," said Christa Brown, Baptist outreach director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "Her extraordinary courage will serve to make others safer."
Decaire, who is in his late 50s, will be sentenced Sept. 18. He faces more than 50 years in prison.
According to Tucson ABC affiliate KGUN-TV, Decaire turned down a plea bargain that would have given a maximum sentence of 24 years
Decaire was arrested on Jan. 11, 2008, after police served a search warrant on East Tucson Baptist Church. He had worked at the church two years as a part-time youth minister but volunteered in the church's student ministry before that for six years.
The church's pastor told media at the time the arrest shocked the church and put it in "uncharted waters" about how to respond.
"They don't teach this in seminary," said Pastor John Anderson, a graduate of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. Anderson did not respond by press time Aug. 20 to an e-mail requesting additional comment.
Brown, an abuse survivor who has lobbied the Southern Baptist Convention for a comprehensive strategy to combat sexual predators, encouraged anyone who has seen, suspected or suffered clergy sex crimes to contact police and get help.
She said the current SBC position that each church can effectively address clergy sex abuse on its own is like thinking each municipality across the country can effectively address terrorism.
"They can't," she said. "It takes a strong, united, cooperative effort."