A superior court judge sentenced an ex-pastor and founder of the largest U.S. Christian music festival to 18 years imprisonment for sexually abusing minors.
Harry Thomas, 75-year-old ex-pastor of Come Alive New Testament Church and co-founder of Creation Festival, pleaded guilty in February to charges of sexual abusing five young girls but attempted to withdraw his guilty plea. Superior Court judge Jeanne Covert denied Thomas's attorney's motion to withdraw his guilty plea and sentenced him Friday to 18 years in prison. (RELATED: Pope Francis Accepts Resignation Of McCarrick Amid Sexual Abuse Scandal)
Thomas reportedly wept at the hearing, at which relatives of his victims called him a "ravenous wolf" and a "hypocrite. He apologized for his crimes and seemingly welcomed the sentence.
"I'm very sorry for the pain I've caused," Thomas said, according to The Associated Press. "I agree with the scriptures. It would be better for a millstone to be hung around my neck and be cast into the sea. That's what I deserve."
Thomas plead guilty to molesting four girls between 1999 and 2015, one of whom he sexually assaulted, and exposing himself to a fifth girl, according to Burlington County Times. The girls were ages 4 to 12 at the time of his crimes.
Stephen Eife, Burlington county assistant prosecutor, denounced Thomas as "a devil in disguise."
"This person abused children at church ... and at (religious music) festivals. ... Every good (memory) we have has morphed into a nightmare," the father of one of the victims said, according to BCT. "We believe only behind bars can children be protected from you."
Another family member of one of the victims also lashed out at Thomas during the hearing.
"You used the fact that these kids loved you, trusted you and eventually feared you to your advantage. You duped us all," she said, according to BCT.
"You stole their innocence and their childhood. You are the lowest of the low. You deserve the life sentence you gave these girls," she added.
In her eyes, Thomas was "the devil incarnate."
Defense attorney Robin Lord requested that Thomas receive the minimum 15 year sentence for his crimes rather than the maximum 20, citing his age and health issues. Covert acknowledged that Thomas may well die in prison during his 18 year sentence, but said that such a sentence was appropriate given the charges.
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