By PAUL STONE
A 70-year-old Palestine man who has pastored small churches throughout the state for the past half century has been sentenced to 47 years in prison after pleading guilty to multiple counts of sexual misconduct with a 12-year-old girl.
Larry Gene Martin, 70, of Palestine was assessed the 47-year sentence by Visiting Judge Jerry Calhoon at the conclusion of his punishment trial Wednesday at the Anderson County Courthouse.
Back in August, Martin had pleaded guilty to eight counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child and a single count of indecency of a child, in addition to pleading “no contest” to a single count of aggravated sexual assault of a child.
Authorities have said Martin, who has said he began preaching at age 16, sexually assaulted a 12-year-old churchgoer on multiple occasions between July 2009 and December 2009.
Martin, who had no previous criminal history, moved in with the girl’s family following the death of his wife in June 2009, according to authorities. The girl also stayed with him at his trailer at times during the period of the sexual assaults, authorities have also said.
Martin was pastor at Faith Bible Church which met in the Brushy Creek area during the time of the incidents.
The girl, her two brothers and parents attended the church.
“They (the girl’s family) joined this church, attended three times a week and befriended both the defendant (Martin) and his wife,” said Elizabeth Watkins, assistant district attorney for Anderson County, who represented the state during this week’s trial.
When the pastor’s wife passed away in June 2009, Martin started spending time around the young girl, staying at the family’s residence at times and having her stay at his trailer with him at others, according to Watkins.
“She (the victim, now 14) testified that once it started, that it was constant and on nearly a daily basis there was some type of sexual contact,” Watkins said.
The girl testified her view of Christianity has been tainted.
“This has,” Watkins said, “forever changed her faith.”
The assistant district attorney said Martin “believed that he was in love with her” and “that God sent her to him.”
Three witnesses were called by the defendant during Wednesday’s hearing — all of whom attended the Faith Bible Church at one time.
At least two of those witnesses “believed the devil made him do it,” Watkins said, due to his “weakened emotional state from the passing of his wife.”
The victim and her two brothers — ages 10 and 13 — have “been permanently placed outside the home,” according to Watkins.
Their parents have been indicted on the charge of endangering a child in relationship to the incidents involving Martin and are currently awaiting trial, according to Watkins.
Martin, who was represented by local defense attorney Bill House, elected to have the court — rather than a jury — assess his punishment.
Since he had no prior criminal history, Martin was eligible for probation.
Calhoon, however, sentenced him to five years on all nine counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child and two years on the single count of indecency with a child.
Since the sentences were “stacked,” Martin was effectively sentenced to a total of 47 years in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Due to the nature of the offense, the defendant must serve at least half of his sentence — or 23 1/2 years — before he is eligible for parole, according to Watkins.
Martin will likely die in prison.
At the time of his arrest, Martin told Anderson County sheriff’s investigators that he began preaching at age 16; was “ordained” in 1963; and had pastored a total of nine churches spanning more than 50 years, stretching from Houston to East Texas.
The assistant district attorney said her office was unable to find evidence of similar misconduct in other jurisdictions.
Watkins referenced Mark 9:42 in indicating that Martin received a just punishment for his conduct.
The NIV (New International Version) of that scripture reads, “If anyone causes one of these little ones — those who believe in me — to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea.”
“Since we cannot mete out the Lord’s justice,” Watkins said the court’s punishment verdict would have to be sufficient.
Paul Stone may be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org