A former Tennessee pastor convicted of repeatedly raping his adopted teenage daughter was handed down an effective 12-year prison sentence at the Knox County Criminal Court this past Thursday, May 9.
According to The Knoxville News Sentinel, 41-year-old David Lynn Richards Jr. was spared the harsher penalty being sought by prosecutors after Judge Steve Sword weighed the severity of his crimes against the support he received from friends and family in court.
During his trial in February, Richards had taken the stand in his own defense and asserted his innocence. He claimed that the victim, Amber Richards, was a defiant teenager who made the allegations of sexual abuse against him after he tried to impose stricter rules on his children.
However, forensic testing uncovered the presence of seminal fluid with a DNA profile matching that of Richards Jr. on the girl's bed frame. A jury subsequently found him guilty on nine felony counts, including rape, incest, and sexual authority by an authority figure.
Amber, who has chosen to identify herself and speak out after Richards was found guilty, delivered a powerful impact statement before Richards' sentencing on Thursday.
Accompanied by her biological parents, whom she had been reconnected with in recent years, Amber told the court, "I wanted to throw my body away. Not a day goes by that I don't, in some way, think of what he did to me. ... I firmly believe if given the opportunity, he would victimize another young girl."
Despite being found guilty, Richards Jr continued to maintain his innocence while asking Sword for leniency in the sentence. "I stand before you convicted of crimes I did not commit," he said. "I simply believe the system just erred in this case. I'm not sure why I'm here. ... but I assume it's for His purpose."
While prosecutors had asked for the maximum term of 72 years behind bars, Sword noted Richards Jr's longtime ministry — he began a Bible study while imprisoned at the Knox County Detention Facility — and the support he received as mitigating factors.
Indeed, more than 30 people showed up and sat in the ex-pastor's side of the courtroom to support him during the sentencing hearing, with David Thompson, who shared ministry duties with Richards Jr at My Father's House Church of God in Lenoir City, echoing the call for leniency. "I find it impossible for me to believe he's guilty of this," Thompson was quoted saying. "His business needs him. His family needs him. Our church needs him."
Sword could have, in fact, given a sentence far lesser than the 12-year one he eventually handed down because most of the charges Richards Jr was convicted of, including rape, are punishable by just probation under Tennessee state law.
But the judge took into consideration the time frame of the abuse — Richards Jr had started raping Amber when she was just 14 and had continued doing so for two years before she reported it to the authorities — and his position as her sole guardian while handing down the jail term.
But the case is still likely to remain open, with Richards Jr joined on Thursday by a new attorney, Stephen Ross Johnson, who promised to seek out a new trial.