Former Plainfield Pastor Found Guilty of Sexually Assaulting 2 Girls

By Julia Terruso
The Star-Ledger
June 14, 2012

George Benbow, 59, was convicted of two counts of sexual assault and four counts of endangering the welfare of a child in Superior Court in Elizabeth.

As a sheriff’s officer led their former pastor away in handcuffs today after he was convicted of sexually assaulting two young girls, the victims’ parents wiped tears from their eyes.

George Benbow, who had stood in the pulpit at Christian Fellowship Gospel Church in Plainfield, preaching right and wrong, had betrayed their trust, they said.

"I’m glad it’s over and my daughter doesn’t have to go through this anymore," the mother of one of the girls said, her voice breaking. "This has devastated a community."

A jury in Superior Court in Elizabeth convicted Benbow of two counts of sexual assault for encounters with two girls between the ages of 9 and 13 — incidents that occurred on church property and in his home next door. He did not react to the verdict except to confer with his lawyer.

Benbow was acquitted on charges of sexually assaulting two other girls and attempting to sexually assault a third, but he was found guilty of lesser child endangerment counts in four of the five cases.

Benbow could face 16 to 30 years in prison when he is sentenced Aug. 31.

"It was a confusing verdict," said his attorney, Steven Altman. "Given the way it came out, we’d certainly expect to appeal."

Benbow, 59, was pastor of the church he founded in 1981. After the accusations were made in 2008, parishioners from the 600-member congregation started to vanish, and the church and the summer camp it ran closed.

The explicit and emotionally charged trial lasted four weeks, consisting almost exclusively of testimony from the five girls who accused Benbow of assaulting them over the course of eight years, beginning in April 2000. All were either campers, counselors or babysitters at the church, and they told similar stories.

Each girl, the youngest of whom is now 12, testified that Benbow would call them over to sit on his lap and then rub or push up against them. In some cases, he used a restroom immediately afterward.

The descriptions of how he moved and whether or not he was aroused at the time varied, leading the jury to convict Benbow of the top sexual assault charge for the two victims with the most detailed recollections.

Union County Assistant Prosecutor John Esmerado commended the girls for their strength on the witness stand.

"They’re doing well," he said. "I thank the children who testified for their courage and resiliency."

For the victims and their family members who sat in the courtroom every day of the trial, today’s verdict signals an opportunity to move on.

The mother of the youngest victim, known only by her initials "A.P.," said she never doubted her daughter’s story.

"A.P." was the youngest victim and the first to come forward with an accusation against Benbopw. She was attending the church summer camp when she told a counselor Benbow had pulled her onto his lap while the two were alone in an upstairs kitchen and "humped" her.

After that, four more girls came forward with accusations.

The defense argued throughout the trial that then-9-year-old "A.P.’s" accusation was false and the catalyst for copycat allegations from her friends in the church camp.

Today provided some vindication for "A.P.’s" mother, whose name is also being withheld to protect her daughter’s identity.

"I’m glad the jury heard her. I have told her that I’m proud of her for being brave enough to tell me what happened and that in doing so she helped people that this happened to, and who it could have happened to," the mother said. "She seems to have taken some pride in that, and from this point the next phase is healing."








Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.