CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A federal judge sentenced fallen evangelist Jim Bakker to an 18-year prison term yesterday, far less than the 45-year term thrown out by an appeals court but far more than Bakker and his followers had hoped for.
The sentence, which came after a subdued Bakker apologized for his stewardship of his PTL ministry, means that Bakker will most likely serve at least four more years in prison.
Bakker, who left the courthouse in handcuffs and leg irons, will be eligible for parole after serving about six years. He has already served almost two years at a federal prison in Rochester, Minn. The U.S. District Court judge who imposed the sentence, Graham Mullen, declined to order a fine or restitution for Bakker.
"I'm understandably very sad today," said Bakker's wife, Tammy Faye. "I was hoping Jim would be able to come home sooner."
The 51-year-old Bakker's forlorn remarks in court yesterday summed up his shattered life. Bakker apologized for his misdeeds and pleaded for mercy.
"Your honor, I am deeply and seriously remorseful for my moral failures and for the hurt I have caused so many people," he said as his wife and daughter, Tammy Sue Chapman, as well as his father, Raleigh, looked on.
"I failed so many people that trusted me, my own church congregation, this community, my partners, the church world as a whole, myself and my God and my dear family I love so very, very much."
Bakker spoke briefly of prison, saying he recently saw the words, "This is a sad world," written on a wall. "Prison is a sad world," Bakker said. "It's the land of the living dead for me. It's not just strip searches. It's the separation from family and loved ones."
Bakker was convicted in October 1989 on 24 counts of fraud and conspiracy.
In February, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond, Va., overturned the 45-year prison sentence handed down by Judge Robert Potter, saying that the judge had improperly injected religious views into his sentence.
Some of Bakker's followers bitterly denounced the sentence, but they seemed to realize that yesterday's action probably ended the legal process.
"I'm not happy with it," said Margaret Wallace of Atlanta, who followed Mrs. Bakker as she walked through a throng of reporters to her car. "But six years is better than a life sentence, which is what the other judge gave him at his age. I will be praying for him for the next six years."