Jury deliberations underway in former Prescott minister molestation trial
CAMP VERDE - A Yavapai County jury is currently deliberating the fate of Thomas Chantry, the former pastor of the Miller Valley Baptist Church in Prescott. Chantry is being retried on four molestation charges that involve the same accuser in a case that ended with a hung jury this past summer.
The minister has been accused of multiple instances of abuse and molestation involving the children in his former congregation.
During a trial last summer, a Yavapai County Superior Court jury was deadlocked on the other four molestation charges by just one juror and this is a retrial of that case, according to Deputy County Attorney Susan Eazer.
During the trial last summer, Chantry was tried on a total of five felony charges of child molestation and three aggravated assault charges.
Jurors determined he was guilty on two of the aggravated assault charges and not guilty on one aggravated assault charge and one molestation charge.
Chantry is also facing nine other charges involving child abuse and molestation in another case.
In June 1995, Chantry became the new pastor at Miller Valley Baptist Church. Accusers and their families first reported incidents of abuse to the church but no reports were made to the police until 2015.
Eazar ended the two-week trial on Tuesday arguing in her closing arguments that the jurors should believe the witnesses’ testimony, including the testimony of the single victim in this case who is now a grown man with children,
However, Chantry’s defense attorney, Ryan Stevens, argued in his closing statement that the witnesses for the victim brought “personal agendas, family agendas, biases and prejudices.” He said the witnesses in this trial contradicted themselves when compared to their testimony in previous testimony and statements, and cited several examples.
Stevens argued that the four molestations charges that Chantry is facing are not about allegations of “spanking.”
“Excessive spanking: That’s for another courtroom, on another day.” This case is about the “touching” of the victim in certain body areas, he said.
The defense attorney also questioned the quality of the witnesses’ memories of alleged incidents from more than 20 years ago.
The defense attorney also said there was no medical or scientific evidence to collaborate the victim’s testimony. There was no thorough police investigation, he added.
“They (the witnesses) have knowledge of spankings,” Stevens told the jury.
“And you look at the actual evidence that is paper-thin. This, ladies and gentlemen, is not what ‘proof beyond a reasonable doubt’ looks like, to convict a person of child molesting.”
In her rebuttal to Stevens’ closing arguments, Eazer took exception at Stevens’ comment that spankings “have nothing to do with this case.”
What the defense never brought is why the minister would be spanking these children in this manner, Eazer argued. She asked why would the defendant deny the spankings, other than say they were light taps, she asked.
“Wouldn’t it be a little too creepy for the defendant to have pulled down the pants of children in his congregation, spanked them excessively, with objects repeatedly, leave marks, for things like spelling errors grammatical errors,” Eazer pointed out, “Why would each of those children describe those spankings,” she asked the jury.
“The spankings again are the gateway into the molestation,” Eazer said.
“You can’t get to what he did” to the victim without talking about the spanking, she said,
Eazer pointed out that the minister even got permission from the victim’s family to discipline children by spanking them, using his church influence, to let the victims know he was in “control.”
“Why did he do it? Motive.” Eazer said. “It was actually very brilliant in a sadistic and pedophilia perhaps way.”
Chantry showed the victim who was in-control, he got joy from inflicting pain, watching the victim’s bottom turn red and this gave the minister an excuse to do what his motive and his intent was: “To touch this little boy,” the prosecutor said.
The 34-year-old man told the jury that the “touchings were better than the spankings,” Eazer said in her closing argument,
If that wasn’t enough, Eazer continued, the pastor told the 11-year-old alleged vicitim: “If you tell, God is going to punish you. If you tell, you’re not going to go to heaven.”
Eazer stressed that the witness did not come up with their stories about the minister together and that they should be believed even two decades later. She argued there is no reason to make up these stories just because they are angry at the minister. The testimony is not the kind of attention these witnesses and victims seek, she added,
The parents and other adults feel awful about not doing more about the abuse at the time, Eazer said.
She said it’s not uncommon for details in memory to change over the years. A person may remember something important in life, but not remember every detail, she pointed out. The witnesses all told similar stories as the victim, she said,
The accuser, now 34 and a father of two, was called to the witness stand the opening week of the trial. He had already testified once before over the summer.
The man said when Chantry first came to Miller Valley Baptist Church, his parents would invite him over for dinner. Then Chantry offered to tutor him. His parent obliged.
The spankings started during the second tutoring session, according to the man’s testimony.
The spankings would eventually get worse, however, and eventually turned into molestation, according to the man’s testimony.
Stevens said in his opening argument that the case was about corporal punishment, not molestation.
Stevens urged jurors to focus on what Chantry is being charged with.
“We’re not sitting here saying molestation is acceptable,” he said. “We’re saying (the accuser) is not telling the truth. We don’t enjoy that but that’s what has to be done.”
The jury will return on Wednesday to resume deliberations at 9 a.m.