(Photo: Victory Christian Center / File)
John and Charica Daugherty, youth pastors at the Victory Christian Center megachurch in Tulsa, pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor of waiting two weeks to report a rape crime, and were handed five-year deferred sentences and no jail time on Friday.
"We respect the judge's sentence and we look forward to helping other churches and organizations learn how to best protect their children and promptly report child abuse," the Daughertys said in a statement following the sentence. "We hope these actions will help in the healing process of all who were affected."
Special Judge Bill Hiddle explained that the son and daughter-in-law of Victory Senior Pastor Sharon Daugherty, who leads the 17,000-member congregation, did not carry as much blame for the incident as their three other co-workers who were sent to 30 days in jail last week on the same misdemeanor charges, The Associated Press reported.
Former Victory employee Chris Denman, 20, was arrested in July 2012 for raping a 13-year-old girl at the church's stairwell, and was also charged for molesting a 15-year-old girl in a separate crime. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 55 years in prison.
The mother of the assaulted 13-year-old girl, however, filed a lawsuit against Victory in October for failing to report the crime on time. The five employees who stood trial waited more than two weeks to report the rape to the police.
Victory has stated that it understands the gravity of the allegations and last year suspended the employees "who we found to be aware of the allegation of rape."
"Victory Christian Center has a written policy that requires any allegation of abuse to be reported by employees to the Department of Human Services, and internally within one hour to their department head and the director of human resources. It appears that this policy was not followed by the employees initially involved, and the allegations were not reported as directed within the required time," Jarrod Kopp, senior account executive of Schnake Turnbo Frank, a public relations consultant hired to represent the church, previously shared in an email with The Christian Post.
John and Charica Daugherty have denied any wrongdoings, and their legal team attempted to have the charges against them dismissed. The youth pastors were poised to stand jury trial in May after rejecting a plea deal last month, before their no contest deal on Friday.
Judge Hill pointed out that the situation could have been handled better by the employees at the church.
"I want the hammer over your heads, Mr. and Mrs. Daugherty, for a longer period of time," Hiddle told the couple, ordering them to visit at least 20 organizations that work with children to talk with employees about the proper ways of reporting abuse.
"I want to make sure things are done right."
AP noted that the mother of the assaulted girl, who wasn't named, looked "distraught" as the Daughertys were spared a jail term. She did not speak to reporters after the sentencing.
Victory Christian Center has stood by its employees during the trial, though Sharon Daugherty has apologized to her congregation for the incident and urged anyone who comes across child abuse at the church to come forward and report it immediately.