Former pastor sentenced to three years for sexually abusing preteen girl
PEORIA — A former pastor was sentenced to three years in prison Thursday for sexually abusing a preteen girl for a number of years.
Ralph W. Barnett, 74, of 4216 N. Patricia Court, spoke in soft and measured tones. He apologized for his actions, telling Judge David Brown that it “just happened” and he was going through a bad time in his life. He told the judge he stopped himself after five years and now was seeking repentance and forgiveness.
But the judge took issue with the statement that Barnett “just happened” to begin abusing the girl in 2003 and then just stopped in 2008.
“It just doesn’t happen that you enter into a sexual relationship with a child for several years,” he said, before imposing sentence. The judge said probation, which Barnett wanted due to his extensive medical issues, wasn’t appropriate as children needed to be protected and a message had to be sent.
The judge also noted the testimony from the victim, now a teenager, who tearfully told how the abuse affected her.
In April, Barnett pleaded guilty in Peoria County Circuit Court to aggravated criminal sexual abuse. In return for his plea, three other counts including criminal sexual assault and predatory criminal sexual assault of a child were dropped. Prosecutors agreed to a 10-year cap. Without the deal, he had faced up to 60 years behind bars.
The abuse came to light some five years after it ended when the girl came forward and told her family.
Barnett must register as a sex offender after he completes his prison term.