Delaware man jailed for sex offenses
— A church musician convicted of inappropriate sexual contact with a vulnerable parishioner was ordered to spend three months in the Kent County Detention Center and to be placed on the sex offender registry.
Bennett Thomas Johnson Jr., 68, of Clayton, Del., must register his address every year for 15 years.
In sentencing Friday in the Circuit Court for Kent County, Judge Paul M. Bowman described the crime as a “lifechanging event” for the victim, a 22-year-old man who is intellectually challenged.
Bowman sentenced Johnson to one year in the county jail, with all but three months suspended. Johnson was given credit for the eight days he served in lockup before he was released on bail in April.
Upon release from incarceration, Johnson is to be placed on five years of supervised probation. As a special condition of his probation, Johnson is to submit to a mental health evaluation and to complete treatment as recommended. He is to have no contact with the victim.
Johnson faced a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
In exchange for Johnson’s plea to a fourth-degree sex offense, the Office of the Kent County State’s Attorney agreed to recommend a sentence of three months of active incarceration. The sentencing guidelines recommended up to six months.
The plea agreement was not binding on the court.
As part of the deal, prosecutors dismissed the additional charges of third-degree sex offense and second-degree assault.
The offenses were alleged to have occurred June 1, 2016 to July 30, 2016 at a church, where Johnson had been a musician and parishioner for about 10 years, according to the state’s attorney’s office. Over time, Johnson had developed a friendship with the victim and members of the victim’s family.
The Rock Hall Police Department conducted the investigation that resulted in charges being filed against Johnson.
He was indicted by a Kent County grand jury in early January, but the Kent County Sheriff’s Office was unable to serve the arrest warrant until March 27. Johnson was out of state and “somewhat hard to find,” then-Kent County State’s Attorney Harris Murphy said at the time.
Johnson was initially held in the Kent County Detention Center without bail. He was released April 4 after posting $75,000 bond.
On Aug. 21, Johnson entered an Alford plea to fourth-degree sex offense. He did not admit guilt, but conceded that the prosecutor had sufficient evidence to gain a conviction.
During sentencing last week, State’s Attorney G. Robert Mowell told the court that Johnson had a prior conviction for sexual assault in 1979 but there was no active jail time in that case. The victim was an 11-year-old boy.
Johnson “needs to know that he cannot do this and there are consequences. One of those serious consequences is incarceration,” Mowell told the court. He objected strongly to home detention. The victim in this case and the victim’s guardian were unable to attend Friday’s sentencing. A letter from the victim was submitted to the court. Bowman read the letter while seated at the bench, but did not discuss its contents.
Lutherville-based defense attorney Joseph Murtha asked that Johnson be placed on home detention with a period of supervised probation. If the court determined that incarceration was appropriate, Murtha asked that it be capped at three months.
Murtha portrayed Johnson as a man who had “lived a life of service and dedication to others.” According to court documents submitted by the defense, Johnson has a master’s degree in theology and had done missionary work for eight years in Haiti.
He currently is employed by a Delaware nonprofit that provides services for the homeless and those receiving mental health and substance abuse treatments, according to defense documents submitted to the court.
Murtha said Johnson had “suffered a lot of losses” due to the criminal charges against him and had health issues due to stress.
When given the opportunity to address the court, Johnson said, “I don’t know what I could add other than I am very sad that we have to be here.”
Bowman told Johnson that he had to be held accountable for what he had done. “There have to be consequences,” the judge said.