Judge Declares Past Case Admissible in Former Fairbanks Pastor's Sexual Assault Trial

By Chris Freiberg
The News-Miner
September 10, 2010

FAIRBANKS — When a former Fairbanks pastor goes to trial on charges that he sexually abused a young member of his congregation, jurors also will hear about a sexual relationship Shawn Anthony Justice had with an underage girl years earlier, a judge ruled Thursday.

Justice, the 32-year-old former pastor of the Corinthian Baptist Church, has pleaded not guilty to 12 counts of sexual abuse of a minor, a class B felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Superior Court Judge Michael McConahy heard about 30 minutes of arguments Thursday morning regarding whether Justice’s 2003 misdemeanor conviction out of Virginia for contributing to the delinquency of a minor should be admissible at trial.

In that case, Justice, then 24 years old and a choir director, had sex with a 15-year-old member of the choir, prosecutor Gayle Garrigues said.

Justice’s attorney, Nelson Traverso, argued that admitting the prior conviction would prejudice the jury and keep them from focusing on the current charges Justice faces.

Traverso also argued that he should be able to present psychological records of the girl accusing Justice of sexual abuse. The teen was psychologically evaluated in 2008 after attempting suicide soon after police began investigating Justice, Traverso said.

He said he does not know exactly what the girl might have said at that time, but only wants present information about the case at hand.

McConahy ruled that he must review any such records before making a decision on what to allow at trial.

Justice’s trial is set to begin later this month.

Justice was hired as the pastor of the Corinthian Baptist Church in 2007 and led the church for 15 months before he was dismissed in August 2008. He then led a satellite church, also in Fairbanks.

Fairbanks police believe Justice met the now-15-year-old victim while he was pastor, but that the relationship did not become sexual until the summer of 2009, after he left the church.

Before that, Justice engaged in suspicious activity with the girl, such as sending her inappropriate text messages at church functions, according to police.

Justice's firing led to a lengthy court battle about whether a church's leadership or its congregation has the right to fire a pastor. That case ultimately was dismissed.

Supporters said Justice attracted new worshipers, especially younger people, to the church, while trustees said they found his leadership lacking.

Contact staff writer Chris Freiberg at 459-7545.

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