Former Pastor Sex Abuse Case Moves Forward

News Watch 3/January 24, 2003
By Philip Jensen

Idaho Falls -- A Bonneville County judge ruled Friday there is enough evidence for a former Idaho Falls pastor to stand trial on child sex abuse charges. Steven Michael Sheridan is charged with two counts of lewd conduct with a child under the age of 16.

Sheridan was pastor of St. Paul's United Methodist Church six years ago when a now-20-year-old man says Sheridan touched his genitals at least five times. The man testified he was attending Sheridan's congregation when the pastor said he had a dream the alleged victim was preaching to his own congregation, spurring the then-teen to consider joining the clergy.

Sheridan became a mentor to the boy, according to testimony, and the two took several trips together. The witness testified the two sat naked in a hot tub two to three times a week and gave each other massages, sometimes masturbating and talking about sex. They also watched pornography together, the witness told the court. On at least five occasions, the alleged victim said, Sheridan touched the then-teen's testicles, which Sheridan claimed at the time he was doing to check for cancer, according to testimony.

The witness said he confronted Sheridan on the phone last September about the alleged abuse, to which Sheridan replied "I thought we forgave all this." An Idaho Falls Police Department detective recorded the call. In a subsequent call, also recorded, Sheridan said he didn't remember if he did anything inappropriate, but said, "If I did it, then I ask you to forgive me for it."

Sheridan later left St. Paul's and started the Oasis Christian Church, from which he resigned last year following an internal investigation into the allegations at the heart of the criminal charges. According to Oasis Christian Church officials, Sheridan admitted to sitting naked in the hot tub with the witness but denied any criminal wrongdoing.

Sheridan's attorney did not speak to the media after the hearing, nor did he return phone calls to Newswatch 3. Prosecutor Brett Allison was satisfied with the temporary victory awarded the state. "I'm happy whenever someone's charged with a crime and they have to stand to answer for that," Allison said. "I thought it was difficult for the victim to testify but I thought he did a good job."

Sheridan will be arraigned within two weeks, where he will enter a plea to the charges. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison for each charge. Prosecutors say they'll prepare for trial, but hope and expect the case may settle before then.

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