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Last updated: Fri. Feb. 14, 2014 - 01:19 pm EDT

Jury convicts pastor on 2 of 4 molesting counts

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FORT WAYNE — An Allen Superior Court jury found a pastor guilty late Thursday of two counts of child molesting.

The jury also acquitted the Rev. James Burton on two molesting charges.

The jury deliberated about five hours. Burton will be sentenced next month and faces 20 to 50 years in prison.

In late 2012, Allen County prosecutors charged Burton with four counts of child molesting – two Class A felonies and two Class C felonies – after a girl who had lived with his family while in foster care accused him of performing sex acts on her and fondling her on more than one occasion between June 2009 and January 2012. The girl was removed from the Burtons’ home that year.

The jury found Burton guilty of the two Class A felonies but not guilty on the two Class C felonies.

Burton was the pastor of Greater Faith Baptist Church at the time the abuse was alleged to have occurred. The girl, now 10, disclosed the abuse to a teacher at her school by a handwritten note. She testified Tuesday, the first day of the trial.

Testimony on Thursday, the final day, largely consisted of character witnesses for Burton, including his wife, Theresa Burton. Burton himself also took the stand.

His wife told the jury about the family’s routine and said her husband worked nights and was never alone around the children.

Theresa Burton testified that the weekend before the girl disclosed the abuse, the girl spoke to her older brother on the telephone. Shortly after that phone call, the girl said she would not go to bed.

“She said she was afraid to go upstairs,” Theresa Burton said.

Theresa Burton said she kept the girl home from school the following Monday because she had a temper tantrum.

Allen County Deputy Prosecutor Stacy Kollins asked jurors to view the case and the girl’s testimony through the eyes of a young child. The girl’s statements, her hesitation and demeanor were consistent, Kollins said, with her age and the situation.

And she reminded the jury that not all evidence can be measured and scientifically evaluated – testimony, the words of the girl, is actually evidence, and they should consider it as such.

“Disclosure is a process,” Kollins said, adding it had been a painful and embarrassing one to the young girl.

The girl, who was between 6 and 8 at the time the abuse is alleged to have occurred, was demonstrative in how she described the incidents to those who interviewed her.

Kollins asked the jury whether the girl could have been so descriptive in drawings she made or in physically demonstrating the acts if she had not experienced the behavior firsthand.

But Burton’s defense attorney, Don James, told the jury that the “absence of evidence is evidence” and asked them to consider the girl’s contradictory statements of what she said happened.

“The Burtons told you the truth,” James said.

He said the prosecution was trying to change the standards by which the jurors would measure the truth, merely because the girl was young.

“I ask you not to let your sympathy for the girl override your common sense,” he said.

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