A former employee of Victory Christian Center in Tulsa, Okla., will be charged for sending lewd and indecent proposals to a 14-year-old girl, after a judge ruled that the 23-year-old man cannot be excused for not knowing her real age.
District Judge William Kellough rejected Israel Castillo's argument on Tuesday that he did not know that the unnamed girl was under age, when he made a lewd proposal to her while working as a janitor at the 17,000-member Tulsa megachurch.
Castillo's defense attorney, Hugh Hood, argued that his client did not realize that the victim was a child, and under state laws cannot be charged for a crime he was not aware he was committing.
"That is exactly wrong to ignore (that)," Hood argued, according to The Associated Press. "You can't hold someone liable for breaking the law when they have no way of knowing they are breaking the law."
The Crimes Against Children Division, which is representing the 14-year-old girl, insisted, however, that Castillo had known the victim for at least two years before the incident, and had met her through a youth program at Victory Christian Center. The former church janitor has pleaded not guilty to the charges and has been on bail since September, but faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted. His arraignment is scheduled for Feb. 1.
Victory Christian Center has been embroiled in a number of sex scandals in the past year. Last month, another former employee, 20-year-old Chris Denman, was sentenced to 55 years in prison after he admitted to raping a 13-year-old girl in a stairwell on the church's campus last year.
After the attack, another five church employees, including the son and daughter-in-law of Victory Christian Center Senior Pastor Sharon Daugherty, were charged with taking over two weeks to report the rape to police after they found out about it. The church employees have pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor charge, but the court has refused to throw out the charges against them and has set their hearings for next month.
To help explain their actions during the week after the attack on the 13-year-old girl, Victory Christian Center shared a detailed account on the Tulsa World website, attempting to show that their employees took all the steps they were trained to take in reporting such crimes.
Senior Pastor Daugherty has apologized for the incident, but the megachurch has stood by its employees. The accused staff members were assigned different roles and a supervisor at the church after the incident.