A `false prophet' sentenced

Woodlawn pastor pleads guilty in sexual abuse case

August 16, 2007|By Josh Mitchell | Josh Mitchell,Sun reporter

The woman initially didn't want to believe her teenage son's allegations that the pastor she considered a father figure had molested him.

"I asked him over and over, `Are you sure?'" she told a Baltimore County judge yesterday, "hoping he would say something that would let me escape this."

Yesterday, as Gerald Fitroy Griffith pleaded guilty to child sexual abuse, the woman talked of the pain that came with betrayal. Still, some members of the Redemption Christian Fellowship Church in Woodlawn sat behind Griffith during his court hearing -- and waved to him.

Circuit Judge Robert N. Dugan said there could no longer be any doubt about Griffith's guilt.

"If there ever was a false prophet, he sits there," said the judge, who then sentenced Griffith to eight years in prison.

His prison time will be served concurrently with a 15-year sentence he received in Howard County last month after a jury found him guilty of sexual abuse there.

Griffith, 41, wearing a thin beard, black Nikes and a light blue prison shirt, showed no reaction as five accusers and a mother of one of them spoke of the impact of his sexual abuse. He declined to offer a statement and spoke softly in response to the judge's questions.

The abuse occurred between November 2002 and October 2005 in Griffith's office at the church in the 6500 block of Dogwood Road, court documents show.

During sessions in which Griffith was supposed to be counseling the youths for emotional problems, he molested them and ordered them to perform sex acts, according to charging documents. The youngest accuser was 15 years old.

Some of the victims -- who included one female and four males -- said they forgave Griffith, even though he has not apologized for the crimes. The female victim noted that Griffith never glanced at the group throughout the hearing.

"Yes, he's pleaded guilty. But he still won't be a man and apologize to us," she said.

The Sun does not identify victims of sexual abuse.

Griffith, a native of Trinidad, helped start the church in a friend's basement in the early 1990s, said his lawyer, David B. Irwin. The church quickly grew and counted hundreds of members at its peak, Irwin said.

Griffith has traveled to Africa, Europe and the Caribbean to deliver sermons, the lawyer said.

Church members viewed Griffith as a father figure, his victims said yesterday.

"There was nobody else on Earth I trusted more than him," one male victim said. He said he initially did not think of the pastor's actions as molestation but came to realize that what the pastor was doing was wrong. "I lost my best friend, I lost the person I trust," he said. "The hardest thing in the world [was] I had to stand against friends in the church."

Other victims said they had been shunned by family members and friends who refused to believe the allegations.

The mother of one of the victims tearfully recalled how she and her son shared personal details during counseling sessions with Griffith.

"I can't go to another church. I don't trust another pastor," she said. "I don't trust anybody."

Six church members in suits sat in a row behind the pastor, one clutching a Bible. Several mumbled as the accusers made their statements.

One victim addressed the group, saying, "I feel sorry for them because I've been there before."

"They all know," the lone female victim said. "They're still standing with him, and they're not standing in the truth."

The judge at one point responded to the notion that Griffith's supporters still doubted the pastor's guilt.

"If anyone is, quite frankly, that dumb, you shouldn't value their views at all," Dugan said, waving toward the six men sitting behind Griffith.

The men declined to comment after the sentencing.

Irwin told the victims he had advised Griffith not to issue an apology for legal reasons, and added, "He certainly still cares about them."

In exchange for the guilty plea, prosecutors dropped numerous other charges against Griffith. The agreement called for a 20-year prison sentence, with all but eight years suspended.

As Griffith was led out of the courtroom, he waved to the church members sitting behind him, and several waved back.

josh.mitchell@baltsun.com

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