A 76-year-old former Anderson County pastor who preached in the area for more than three decades has been sentenced to serve 20 years in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for sexually abusing young girls.

Hezekiah Stallworth, 76, of Palestine was arrested 14 months ago after a 7-year-old female made an outcry she had been “touched inappropriately in a sexual manner” following services on Feb. 21, 2010 at Oak Grove Baptist Church in Elkhart, according to Anderson County Sheriff Greg Taylor.

Two additional victims -- both now adults -- subsequently came forward with similar charges against Stallworth, with the longtime preacher being subsequently charged with the first-degree felony of aggravated sexual assault of a child and the second-degree felony charge of indecency with a child by sexual contact.

Following his punishment trial Thursday, Stallworth was sentenced to 20 years in prison on the first-degree felony charge and 10 years on the second-degree felony by 369th State District Judge Bascom W. Bentley III.

The sentences will be served concurrently, according to Anderson County District Attorney Doug Lowe.

Stallworth pled guilty to both felony charges this past January.

The district attorney said Stallworth must serve “at least half” of his prison sentence before becoming eligible for parole.

“At least in the past,” sex offenders have served “the majority of their sentences,” according to Lowe, meaning Stallworth could die in prison.

“It’s a life sentence for this guy,” Lowe said. “It’s not the amount of years somebody younger may have gotten. I think it’s enough to keep him locked up.”

On Feb. 21, 2010, authorities have said Stallworth lured the young girl into his office by offering candy and then sexually abusing her.

Later that same day, the girl made an “outcry” about the incident to a relative, authorities have said.

Stallworth is a longtime local pastor who preached in Anderson County for more than 30 years, most recently at Oak Grove Baptist Church and Beulah Baptist Church, just south of Palestine.

Shortly after Stallworth’s February 2010 arrest, authorities said two additional persons -- females now in their 20s and 30s -- made contact with the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office and alleged they were sexually abused by the former preacher in the mid- to late-1980s after a story had appeared in the Herald-Press.

Law enforcement authorities have described Stallworth as a well-known figure in the Anderson County Christian community who also occasionally attended other churches as a visitor.


Paul Stone may be contacted via e-mail at pstone@palestineherald.com


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