What Does Chester Mulligan’s Sentence Mean?

Update 4/26/2009 — Chester Mulligan responds exactly as predicted.

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These are my thoughts on Chester Mulligan’s sentencing, and what it means for victims and any church with which he has further contact.

Chester Mulligan pleaded guilty to a significantly-reduced charge of felony stalking, instead of facing trial for the sexual abuse charges made against him. He will serve no jail time and probably return to Grace Baptist Church and Christian School in Miami, FL, where he is the senior pastor.

By accepting this plea bargain, Mulligan gets this monkey off his back. There is no longer a looming sex abuse charge throwing a grey cloud over his life and his ministry. From the beginning he publically pronounced his case would never go to court. Well, it finally did, but he managed to take most of the teeth out of it.

He has also created a largely deniable situation. He can spin this to say it was his way to get this burden removed from God’s work, since the person who accused him seemed to feel his responses to those accusations were tantamount to stalking — or something similar. He can also say that though he was charged with sex abuse, these charges were not proveable in court — thus the reduced sentence; therefore, he is innocent.

Under the legal terms of most of our country, Mulligan is innocent until proven guilty. He was not proven guilty. On a technicality, he can say that if he wasn’t proven guilty of the sex abuse charges, he is innocent of them. The truth is – and must be continually asserted – he was NOT proven innocent of the charges (though the legal burden of proof is on the prosecution, not the defense). Under a plea agreement, there is no opportunity to prove guilt. He pled guilty to a lesser charge in a plea agreement – that is an entirely different matter than being proven innocent, or failure to prove guilt and, therefore, “proving” innocence.

What this means, however, is that Mulligan will almost certainly be free to return to pastoring his church and leading the Christian school there. He will be able to assert that his day in court did not find him guilt of sex abuse. Whether by statement or implication he can continue to assert that the charges against him were false and that the victim is all of the negative labels he has placed on her over the past eight years.

Most importantly of all, this plea bargain and sentence will allow Mulligan to continue his alleged activities if, in fact, he is guilty of them. Sexual predators do not stop until they are forced to stop. IF (since no charges have technically been proven) this moniker applies to Mulligan, the continuation of alleged abuse would apply as well.

It is universally true in any sex abuse situation — for the well-being of other children and adults, anyone who has experienced sexual abuse must come forward. At least in this case, if applicable, now someone else has paved a path – it’s a start. But it is only a start.

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Chester Mulligan Sentenced

Update 4/24/2009 — Here is another blog article about Mulligan’s sentence, and it’s implications.

Update 4/23/2009 — Here is another newspaper article from the Post-Tribune.

Update 4/22/2009 — here is a hot-off-the-press news article covering Chester Mulligan’s sentencing.

Original post 4/22/2009 —

My commentary is in the post What Does Chester Mulligan’s Sentence Mean?

What follows is a first-hand report regarding the court proceedings today.

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The victim, her uncle, and I sat in the courtroom with Chester Mulligan for about twenty minutes before the judge entered. What I perceived as total arrogance engulfed Mulligan. Beside me sat two reporters from the local newspapers I had begged to cover the sentencing proceeding today…to in some degree vindicate the victim. The reporters and I sat directly behind the victim, her attorney and her uncle.

There were no microphones. At times it was hard to hear what was being said. But when the words “plea bargain” were spoken we all heard them. Chester Mulligan’s attorney had worked out a plea deal from a class B felony sexual misconduct charge to an amended charge of Stalking…Felony D. Then I heard the explanation of this charge which carries a sentence of 6 to 18 months. The judge accepted the plea agreement then gave Mulligan a one year sentence suspended to 1 year of probation…probably to be served in Florida. At this point my heart sank.

After court I was glad to hear the prosecutor explain to the family the serious way this crime is looked at on a criminal record. I’m glad I went to support the victim at the sentencing this morning. I’m glad I heard Chester Mulligan say loud and clear that he is guilty. It has been a very long 6-plus years for the victim and her family. It has been almost 8 years since he was arrested during the Sunday morning church service in his former church in East Chicago, Indiana.

I plead with every parent who has children in churches, Christian schools, other ministries, secular children’s organizations and sports teams to request a background check on all staff who work with children. Some say, “I can’t do that.” I would argue that in the day we live in this has become a necessity…it should be an integral part of protecting our children from the possibility of becoming a statistic of the criminal justice system.

Department of Justice Statistic: 1 out of 3 girls and 1 out of 5 boys will be sexually molested before they are 18 years old. The perpetrator will almost always be a trusted family member, friend or authority figure in the child’s life.

Parents, if a pastor, or other staff member has a criminal record of pleading guilty to stalking a young girl…I would not hesitate to find another church A.S.A.P.!

–Sharon Merhalski

NOTE: I would also like to add to Sharon’s admonition to parents about background checks. Some churches and organizations will say 1) they have a child protection policy to which they carefully adhere, and 2) they thoroughly investigate every staff member. However, just because they say these things does not mean what it may sound like.

A child protection policy can go like this – all rooms have windows and there are at least 2 adults in every class. However, what happens when children must be escorted to the bathroom (small children usually)? A child protection policy needs at least two non-related adults in every room with children at all times. Also, having windows in all doors is good – but it only takes a pedophile a moment to act. A window in a door is not adequate protection for any child!

A good child protection policy is much more substantive than 2 adults/room and windows in the doors. Ask for a copy of the policy in writing. Among other things, it should also include required annual child abuse training for everyone working with the children, including peripheral staff. It should outline a very specific action plan for any accusations made, which includes mandatory reporting of every sexual contact allegation.

For a school in a church I would also want to know what the church policy is (in writing) for allowing convicted sex offenders on campus – even as church members, janitors, working in the sound booth, whatever. All those people can easily have access to children! Does someone go with them to monitor them in the bathroom? If you see them on Sunday, where they have no access to children, and you don’t know they are a registered sex offender, aren’t you going to be likely to assume they are probably a trustworthy fellow church member if you meet them at the park? This is not to be taken lightly.

Also, when an organization says they have thoroughly checked out all staff, find out what service they used and ask for proof. Some people will say they have “investigated” when what they really mean is they talked to the person and believe what they say because they seem unassailably sincere.

Please be extra diligent when doing your research and don’t just accept assurances at face value.

— Danni

Pastor Randall “Danny” Russell Sentenced for Child Sex Abuse

Pastor Randall “Danny” Russell was sentenced on April 21, to 15 years in prison for molesting an underage girl and taking advantage of another by photographing her in the nude, according to the linked article. This sentence was part of a plea agreement that dropped 18 other charges against him and limited the term of his prison sentence to a maximum of 15 years. He was sentenced to two 15-year prison terms, to run concurrently.