Ex-Church Employee Pleads Guilty to Sex Abuse
Joseph Shrewsbury Was a Church Youth Leader; the Boy Was in His Charge

By Mike Allen
Roanoke Times
November 29, 2006

Bedford -- Troubled by unwanted sexual thoughts that he believed came from demons, a 13-year-old boy turned to someone he trusted for answers: his church's youth coordinator, Joseph Steven Shrewsbury.

But Shrewsbury told the boy that to get rid of the demon, the boy had to act out what the demon wanted, a Bedford County prosecutor said.

Tuesday morning, Shrewsbury, 30, pleaded guilty to 12 counts of taking indecent liberties with a minor, two counts of aggravated sexual battery and one count of carnal knowledge for molesting the boy in August 2005.

Assistant Bedford County Commonwealth's Attorney Wes Nance said prosecutors will ask a judge to sentence Shrewsbury to serve about 15 to 20 years in the penitentiary.

Shrewsbury's attorney, Assistant Bedford County Public Defender Michael Lonchar, declined to comment Tuesday. Shrewsbury remained out of jail on bond after the hearing.

The boy attended Shady Grove Baptist Church in Thaxton, where Shrewsbury worked part time for about a year and a half. Church officials removed him from the position as soon as they were aware of the investigation.

The Rev. Harry Leland, pastor at Shady Grove, declined to comment Tuesday but said the church would release a statement once the case has ended. Leland has called the case "devastating" for members of the church.

According to evidence Nance summarized in court, in spring 2005, after undergoing a religious conversion, the 13-year-old was bothered by sexual thoughts, which he'd been told came from demons. When the boy asked Shrewsbury what to do about the "bad thoughts," Shrewsbury told him that he was possessed by a "virgin demon" who was attempting to turn him into a homosexual. Shrewsbury told the boy he would be cured only if he did what the demon wanted by himself or with Shrewsbury.

Shrewsbury lured the boy into sexual encounters on four different occasions in August 2005 on the pretext of ridding him of the demon, Nance said. "He played into the child's beliefs and the way he was phrasing these thoughts that he was having," the prosecutor said.

The first two incidents happened in Shrewsbury's car. The third happened in a bathroom at the church. The final incident happened Aug. 21, 2005, in the church sanctuary, Nance said.

In the week following the final incident, the boy began attending a Christian school, Nance said. The staff there noticed the boy's withdrawn demeanor and asked him what was wrong. Eventually he told the staff about what Shrewsbury had done. DNA evidence taken from the church sanctuary corroborated the boy's story, Nance said.

No one else has come forward with any allegations against Shrewsbury, Nance said.

Shrewsbury replied, "Guilty" in a clear voice to each of the charges as he was arraigned Tuesday.

His sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 2.


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