Accused Baptist Minister Signs Plea Deal
Pastor Won't Get Jail Time in Incidents That Occurred As Long As Two Decades Ago
By Liz Mitchell
Richmond Times Dispatch
December 18, 2006
Culpeper -- A Baptist minister signed a plea agreement last week that resulted in his conviction on one felony and six misdemeanor charges related to child abuse.
Charles Shifflett, pastor of First Baptist Church of Culpeper, had been scheduled for four trials beginning Jan. 17 on seven felony charges of physical and sexual abuse against children.
After months of negotiating, prosecution and defense lawyers came to an agreement that is signed by Shifflett, 55, and the victims. The case was added to Thursday's docket days earlier, when Shifflett decided to sign the plea.
Shifflett entered an Alford plea, which means he does not admit guilt but acknowledges that the prosecution has sufficient evidence for a conviction. If the cases had gone to trial, Shifflett could have faced as much as 35 years in prison.
Because he pleaded to the felony charge of cruelty to children, prosecutors agreed to amend the remaining six charges to misdemeanor assault and battery. The agreement means Shifflett will not serve any time in jail.
The charges stemmed from incidents that occurred as long as 20 years ago at Shifflett's former church, Calvary Baptist, and its adjoining private school. In September, he pleaded not guilty to all charges.
In closing arguments, Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Tom Smith said the felony charge relates to incidents in 1992 involving Chad Robison, now 30.
"Shifflett, acting in his capacity as administrator of a private school, would withdraw Robison from school to cut trees down," Smith said. "The defendant would ridicule the victim, tell him he had to work faster and stand closer to the tree that was being cut down. So close, that its branches hit his person while it was falling."
One of the reasons prosecutors agreed to the plea was because the charges stemmed from incidents at least 10 years ago, Smith said. In addition, the evidence on the sexual charges was primarily one person's word against another.
Defense lawyer Samuel Higginbotham II of Orange said the case has been difficult for all involved.
"It takes a lot for a gospel man to accept a felony," he said.
Judge J. Howe Brown Jr. of Culpeper County Circuit Court sentenced Shifflett to five years in prison on the felony charge, with all five years suspended based on conditions. Shifflett is not allowed to use corporal punishment, he can never be in the presence of a child except his grandchildren unless an adult 21 or older is supervising and he will be on supervised probation for two years.
Brown sentenced Shifflett to 12 months in jail on each misdemeanor charge, with all of the time suspended. Shifflett also is required to perform 700 hours of community service.
Liz Mitchell is a staff writer at the Culpeper Star-Exponent.
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