Trial nears for accused peeping evangelist
After avoiding prison in two plea bargains in Arkansas, a former Southern Baptist traveling evangelist and youth speaker now faces charges that he recorded inappropriate video of 13 women ages 17-26 without their knowledge or consent.
By Bob Allen
A former traveling Southern Baptist evangelist and popular youth speaker under investigation in three states for video voyeurism has so far escaped prison in exchange for guilty pleas in two cases but now faces a June 25 trial date in Mississippi, where 13 women have come forward to accuse him of using a concealed camera to spy on them in their most private moments.
According to media reports, 33-year-old Sammy Nuckolls pleaded guilty in April to video voyeurism in two Arkansas communities committed while he was in town to preach at church revival services.
Nuckolls admitted April 3 to secretly taping women using a hidden camera disguised as a writing pen in Waldron, Ark., a small city in western Arkansas located south of Fort Smith. His five-year prison term was suspended. He was ordered to serve five years of probation and pay a $750 fine.
Nuckolls also pleaded guilty to crimes in Gosnell, Ark., near Blytheville in the northeast part of the state. That’s where he first got in trouble last October when a woman told police she discovered a spy pen that Nuckolls left in a bathroom of her home while staying there as a guest while preaching a revival.
After seizing his camera and computer, Arkansas police alerted authorities in Olive Branch, Miss., where Nuckolls lives. They arrested him Oct. 29. In February he was indicted on 13 counts of video voyeurism in Mississippi.
Nuckolls originally entered a plea of not guilty in that case and has until May 31 to accept a plea bargain and change his plea to guilty. If convicted he could face up to five years in prison on each count.
Police in Seymour, Texas, are also investigating accusations that Nuckolls inappropriately photographed at least two females there.
One of the women prepared to testify against Nuckolls in Mississippi told WMC-TV in Memphis that she was shocked to discover that Nuckolls, whom she and her husband considered a close friend, had been secretly filming her since the very first time she visited his home five-and-a-half years earlier.
Ashley Fisher and her husband, Adam, a worship pastor, said they worried that going public would contradict what their faith teaches about forgiveness, but they decided to warn others because of the seriousness of Nuckolls’ crimes.
"We just want to bring awareness of video voyeurism and that it's not something to be swept under the rug," Ashley said.
"They call it visual rape and the repercussions are similar to rape," she said.
She also offered a message for others, like her, who believed in Nuckolls before his fall from grace. "There are thousands of people that knew and looked up to this man that he's let down, that we are still holding on to our faith and we would like to beg people to do that too," she encouraged.
A graduate of Williams Baptist College and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary, Nuckolls served on staff at several churches before entering full-time itinerant ministry. He was popular at youth camps for his use of humor and magic tricks to gain and hold attention.
"Every time I was with him at a camp, every time I heard him speak, his message was right," Adam Fisher told WMC-TV.
For eight years Nuckolls was a camp pastor at LifeWay Christian Resources’ popular FUGE summer camps. In November the FUGE website carried a message saying LifeWay would not use Nuckolls for any future speaking engagements and there was no evidence that any of his alleged victims were filmed at FUGE-related events.
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