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Minister gets prison in sex case

A former St. Petersburg pastor pleads no contest to charges he molested two young girls.

By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE

St. Petersburg Times, published July 8, 2000


LARGO -- The girl sat with her family, declining an invitation to speak in front of a packed courtroom.

The judge called to the bench the minister, a man the girl once had trusted and admired.

With whispered words to spare the girl embarrassment, a prosecutor then outlined to the judge the things this man of God had done to the girl and another of his teenage parishioners.

The Rev. Charles Robinson already had lost his pulpit. On Friday, he lost his freedom.

Robinson, 63, former pastor of Mount Zion AME Church on 20th Street S in St. Petersburg, pleaded no contest to five felony charges that he molested two underaged parishioners in 1998 and 1999.

As part of a plea deal with prosecutors, Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Lauren Laughlin sentenced the minister to 20 years in prison.

Robinson, his hands clasped behind his back, answered a series of questions from the judge to assure his plea was done voluntarily.

To each question, Robinson answered in a barely audible voice, never looking back in the courtroom where one of his victims sat with her family.

He came to court alone, without family or friends to support him.

"We're just glad it's over," said the grandmother of a 13-year-old girl Robinson molested, declining to comment further. "We want to move on and be done with this." She is not being named to protect the identity of the girl.

Felony prosecutor John Drizis said Robinson faced a maximum of 75 years in prison if convicted at a trial later this year.

He said Robinson would not have been offered the plea agreement but for the wishes of the two victims and their families, who wanted to avoid the trauma of an emotional and difficult trial.

"The victims were very happy to avoid a trial," Drizis said. "They don't want to have to live through it all again."

The prosecutor said investigators had uncovered evidence that Robinson also had molested several other girls in years past, though not at the St. Petersburg church he to which he ministered.

But prosecutors decided not to charge him with those acts because they occurred many years ago, Drizis said. He couldn't say how long ago the alleged acts occurred.

Robinson's lawyer, Assistant Public Defender Kandice Friesen, said the teenagers were on the minister's mind when he decided to accept the plea offer and end the case.

"I know he wanted to spare them additional pain," Friesen said. "I think that was primarily his intent in wanting to get it resolved. It's just a sad, unpleasant situation for everyone involved."

Prosecutors say that Robinson fondled and had sexual contact with the 13-year-old and a 15-year-old on church property. While investigators said sexual relations were consensual with the older girl, the younger teenager told police he forced her.

Under Florida law, it is illegal for an adult to have sex with a minor, even if the sex is consensual.

Robinson pleaded no contest to four charges of handling and fondling a child under 16 and one count of performing a lewd and lascivious act.

Robinson was considered an excellent minister by his peers. The allegations first came to light in early 1999.

A school resource officer heard rumors and spoke to the older teen with her mother. A sex-crimes investigator then talked to the pair.

After Robinson's arrest, the second girl approached police with her grandmother and said the girl had been forced to participate in sexual contact in December 1998.

Robinson, who also was declared a sexual predator by the judge, had been free on $100,000 bail until his plea.

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