Pas­tor re­ceives 15-year sen­tence

Lopez con­victed of sex­ual as­sault

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - TRACY M. NEAL

BENTONVILLE — A deputy pros­e­cu­tor told ju­rors Ce­sar Lopez should have been a shep­herd who guided his flock. In­stead, he was a wolf who picked out his prey, she said.

“He uses his po­si­tion of power for his own sex­ual gratification to get what he wants,” Carly Mar­shall told ju­rors Wed­nes­day as she re­quested the max­i­mum sen­tence for Lopez.

A jury found Lopez, 60, a pas­tor of an Avoca church — Min­is­te­rios Solda­dos de Je­su­cristo — guilty of one count of sec­ond­de­gree sex­ual as­sault, a felony pun­ish­able with a prison sen­tence rang­ing from five to 20 years. The jury rec­om­mended Lopez serve 15 years.

The jury, which de­lib­er­ated for four hours, ac­quit­ted Lopez of an­other count of sec­ond-de­gree sex­ual as­sault.

Lopez was ar­rested May 11, 2016.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion be­gan with a tip to the Arkansas State Po­lice hotline a 15- year- old girl and a 16- year- old girl had been mo­lested, ac­cord­ing to a prob­a­ble cause af­fi­davit.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors in­ter­viewed the 15-year-old girl, who said Lopez touched her in­ap­pro­pri­ately mul­ti­ple times. She told in­ves­ti­ga­tors she had known Lopez since she was 6 and thought of him as a grand­fa­ther, ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments.

The 16-year-old girl told in­ves­ti­ga­tors Lopez touched her in ways that made her un­com­fort­able, but didn’t tell any­one in case it was a mis­un­der­stand­ing, ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments.

The jury found Lopez guilty of the charge in­volv­ing the younger girl.

The two girls and their fam­i­lies were mem­bers of the church where Lopez is the pas­tor.

The girls tes­ti­fied and pros­e­cu­tors pre­sented wit­nesses who said Lopez apol­o­gized and begged for for­give­ness.

Lopez tes­ti­fied Tues­day and de­nied any sex­ual con­tact with the two girls when ques­tioned by his at­tor­ney Jim Rose. Lopez speaks Span­ish, so an in­ter­preter was needed.

Mar­shall told ju­rors Lopez preyed on the younger girl, who was de­pressed and be­gan to cut her­self to mask her pain.

Ben­ton County Cir­cuit Judge Brad Kar­ren fol­lowed the jury’s rec­om­men­da­tion and sen­tenced Lopez to prison. Lopez will have to serve slightly more than two years be­fore he’ll be el­i­gi­ble for pa­role. He will be re­quired to reg­is­ter as a sex of­fender.

Lopez

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