A former youth pastor at a Charlottesville church has pleaded guilty to sexually abusing a teenager in his care and will spend 30 days behind bars.
Jacob Daniel Kepple was arrested in December 2014 on two charges of taking indecent liberties with a child. The 36-year-old appeared in Charlottesville Circuit Court on Thursday to plead guilty to one of those charges as part of a plea agreement with the prosecution, which dropped his second charge.
The prosecution said in court that between 2009 and 2011, while Kepple was a youth minister at First Baptist Church on Park Street, he spent increasing amounts of one-on-one time with a high school sophomore who attended First Baptist that grew increasingly inappropriate, though the two never engaged in sexual activity.
It wasn’t until 2014, when the victim was 20 years old, that she first spoke up about the inappropriate behavior Kepple had displayed. She told an older friend, who in turn relayed the information to church leaders.
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Speaking after Kepple’s conviction, First Baptist’s pastor, the Rev. Don Hicks, confirmed that he first heard the allegations in summer 2014, and immediately suspended Kepple with pay. He then notified law enforcement officials, who followed up with Kepple and the victim. Kepple resigned from his post soon after.
Judge Richard Moore said that while the case was a difficult one, he agreed that there was “substantial and sufficient” evidence on which to base the plea agreement. Moore said Kepple’s offenses came down to three components: having taken advantage of a child in his supervision, having inappropriate sexual contact with a child, and violating the trust of the victim, the church and so many others.
Moore added that Kepple’s offense fell on a broad spectrum of acts that could constitute sexual abuse, and that while he could receive a tougher punishment, Moore agreed with the sentence as laid out by the prosecution, as they had considered the victim’s input in formulating the plea agreement.
Indeed, Prosecutor Elizabeth Killeen said the victim was not interested in securing a lengthy incarceration for Kepple, but to ensure he could not work with children again.
“She was never motivated by wanting Mr. Kepple to have all kinds of time in prison,” Killeen said after Thursday’s proceedings. “She wanted for him to not be able to be a youth pastor or work in a school. With a much younger child, you don’t really take that into account, but this is a completely adult victim choosing to bring this situation to the authorities.”
Kepple was sentenced to five years in prison with all but 30 days suspended. He will have to register as a sex offender and must never contact the victim or her family. As a felon and registered sex offender, he also will be unable to ever work with children again.
Killeen said she was pleased with the outcome of the case, as it did not put the often-traumatizing burden that usually accompanies this type of case on the victim. On top of that, Killeen said that because there were no explicit sexual acts, a jury trial could have been more difficult in securing justice.
“This could have been a situation where a jury simply would have had to evaluate different words,” Killeen said. “There wasn’t going to be physical evidence, there wasn’t going to be DNA evidence.”
“You absolutely never know how a jury is going to go,” she added.
Speaking after the trial, Hicks said he was glad that Kepple made a confession to “save the young lady all of this pain.” He also admonished other churches to take extra precautions in hiring, because while First Baptist performs background checks, “they can still slip through.”
“When a person blends in, they can do damage,” Hicks said. “And any victims out there, who haven’t gotten help, please get it.”
Dean Seal is a reporter for The Daily Progress. Contact him at (434) 978-7268, email@example.com or @JDeanSeal on Twitter.