Former pastor faces 10 counts of sexual assault of two teen
By Michael Leathers
OLNEY, Ill. (ABP) -- If things had gone as
planned, 35-year-old Leslie Mason would have preached the keynote sermon
at this year's annual meeting of the Illinois Baptist State Association
Instead the former pastor of Olney Southern Baptist Church
faces 10 counts of criminal sexual assault involving two teenage girls who
attended his southeastern Illinois congregation.
The latest charges
against Mason were filed Oct. 24 by the Illinois Attorney General's
office, which took over prosecution of the case at the request of the
local state's attorney. Mason pleaded not guilty Oct. 27 during a
preliminary hearing in the Richland County Courthouse in Olney. A jury
trial is scheduled for March.
Mason was first charged with two
counts of criminal sexual assault a year ago, just days before sources say
IBSA leaders had planned to nominate him to preach the convention sermon
The association's two top elected officials at the time,
Tim Lewis and Pat Pajak, both pastors, met with the state association's
committee on order of business and advised them of the pending charges.
The committee agreed to remove Mason's name and instead
recommended that messengers elect André Dobson, pastor of Calvary Baptist
of Alton, to deliver the high-profile message.
Mason had been
pastor of Olney Southern Baptist since 1994. Church members unanimously
voted to dismiss him during a special meeting on Oct. 24, 2001, according
to a copy of the church's minutes on file in the Richland County Circuit
Clerk's office. An e-mail addressed from one of the alleged victims to
Mason, also on file at the courthouse, says the girl was 13 years old when
the two began having sexual relations.
Before his arrest, Mason's
star had been on the rise in leadership among the state's Southern
Baptists. He was vice chairman of the constitution-and-bylaws committee.
He was also spokesman for a group of conservative pastors seeking
inclusion of the 2000 "Baptist Faith and Message" into the IBSA's
constitution. He was appointed to the national Southern Baptist
Convention's committee on committees in 1997.
Mason is a graduate
of Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary of Germantown, Tenn., where he
earned a master's degree in religion and education, and of Southwest
Baptist University of Bolivar, Mo.
If found guilty on all 10
counts, Mason could face up to 150 years in prison. Each count is a Class
1 felony, carrying a sentence of four to 15 years.