By Jeff Lehr
PINEVILLE, Mo. — The self-appointed pastor of a Newton County church was assessed 15 years in prison Tuesday for molesting an underage girl and taking advantage of another by photographing her in the nude.
Circuit Judge Tim Perigo sentenced Randall “Danny” Russell, 50, to two 15-year terms on convictions for first-degree child molestation and sexual exploitation of a minor. The hearing was conducted in McDonald County Circuit Court, where the case had been moved on a change of venue. The judge ordered that the two terms will run concurrently.
The pastor of the Acts II Church near Neosho pleaded guilty to the charges in March in a plea agreement that dropped 18 other counts he was facing and limited the length of prison time he could be assessed to 15 years.
“I believe the victims are relieved this case was resolved,” said Bill Dobbs, Newton County assistant prosecutor. “I think the sentence is appropriate, and Mr. Russell will serve a significant time in prison for his acts.”
All of the defendant’s alleged acts were committed under the auspices of his church or in his role as its minister, Dobbs said. But no evidence surfaced in the investigation of Russell to suggest that he created the church and set himself up as its pastor expressly for the purpose of accessing young girls, Dobbs said.
Three women testified at a preliminary hearing in June of last year that Russell either raped, molested or sodomized them while they were minors.
One of them told the court that Russell first began fondling her when she was 12 during rides to a church she and her family attended in Goodman. He also fondled her on a couch in his home after church services, she told the court. That victim, who is now in her 20s, testified that the encounters “got progressively worse” until she stopped going to church with him.
During the course of an investigation by the Newton County Sheriff’s Department, Russell admitted photographing a second girl when she was 16. He admitted at his plea hearing in March that the girl was nude for some of the photographs.
Initial charges against Randall Russell pertained to sexual acts with three underage girls Russell knew through his church or from his attendance at a church in Goodman before starting his own church.
By Jeff Lehr
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