By Bob Allen
A former Southern Baptist music minister who will serve no time in prison after admitting to molesting children nearly 30 years ago demonstrates that America’s justice system isn’t always fair, a newspaper in Jackson, Miss., editorialized Jan. 23.
The Jackson Clarion-Ledger compared crimes committed by John Langworthy — former associate pastor of music and ministries at Morrison Heights Baptist Church in Clinton, Miss., convicted of five felony counts of gratification of lust – to those that put former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky behind bars for the rest of his life.
Unlike Sandusky, Langworthy accepted a plea bargain that prosecutors offered in part over concern that the statute of limitations in such crimes might jeopardize their case if it proceeded to trial.
“They undoubtedly wanted to send Langworthy to prison, but getting the guilty pleas, considering the case involved crimes dating back more than 30 years, seemed the best option,” the newspaper opined. “So they cut a deal with Langworthy, who clearly wanted to avoid prison at all costs — even if it meant admitting to five counts.”
The newspaper said the general public has a hard time understanding why a 28-year-old found guilty the same week of robbing a local Dollar Tree store must serve 35 years in prison while a 50-year-old who admitted to molesting children got off with five years of probation.
“It isn’t fair, comparatively speaking. It’s just how the system works,” the editorial said. “When plea bargaining is involved, sentences lighten up considerably. Prosecutors made a deal with Langworthy because they felt that was the best way forward in the case.”
The lone victory for Langworthy’s victims, the Clarion-Ledger said, is hearing him utter the words “I’m guilty” in court.
“Langworthy deserves time in prison,” the editorial said. “But incarcerated or not, that is at least a verdict he will have to live with the rest of his life.”
The Clarion-Ledger reported Jan. 22 that if the case had gone to trial Jan. 28 as scheduled, prosecutors had subpoenaed the entire elder board of Morrison Heights Baptist Church and the church’s pastor, Greg Besler. The elders include Mississippi Speaker of the House Philip Gunn, a trustee of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
“Elders of the church swore that he (Langworthy) admitted to acts of touching children under the age of 14,” Assistant District Attorney Jamie McBride told the newspaper. Prosecutors also allege Langworthy sexually abused another male child at some point between 1984 and 1989 when the two attended Prestonwood Baptist Church in Dallas.