A former minister at a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship-affiliated church in North Carolina has pleaded guilty to enticing and coercing a minor to engage in illegal sexual activity.
Daniel Franklin Heath, who stepped down in May after 10 years on staff at First Baptist Church in Wilson, North Carolina, admitted to a federal court in Texas that he knew the unnamed minor was under 18 and living with her parents in Texas when he asked her to take photos and videos of herself engaging in sexually explicit conduct on her cellular phone and send the images to him.
Heath, 33, admitted his communications with the victim were romantic in nature, with both parties declaring themselves to be “in love.” Prosecutors said Heath required the girl to “submit” to him in matters including what to wear and to obtain his consent before touching her own body, but he did not agree with that part of a statement of stipulated facts.
Heath, a graduate of Campbell University Divinity School, served seven years as youth minister at First Baptist before being named associate pastor three years ago. The church’s former pastor, Douglas Murray, retired two years ago and currently serves as past moderator on the Coordinating Council of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina.
Michael Cogdill, founding dean at the Campbell University Divinity School who retired this year as a professor, is filling in as First Baptist’s “pastor in the interim.”
According to the Wilson Times, the sentencing phase of Heath’s case is expected within the next few months. He could face from 10 years to life in prison.
Authorities say a third party introduced Heath to the victim through an Internet-based social media application in or about December 2017.
The two remained in “almost constant contact” until this April, court documents said, including his traveling to Texas to visit her in February.