Sunday, June 10, 2007                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor convicted and sentenced: 20 years.

The pastor of Emmanuel Apostolic Church was convicted yesterday of several sexual-offense charges involving a teenage girl who was a member of his church. He was sentenced in Forsyth Superior Court to at least 20 years in prison.

What began as counseling sessions between the Rev. Gregory Michael Butler Sr., 46, and a 14-year-old girl devolved into a sexual relationship with the sex acts taking place in his Cadillac, hotel rooms, and even inside his church, a prosecutor said yesterday during the trial.

The names of the girl, who is now 17 and her family members are not being published because the Winston-Salem Journal does not publish the names of victims in cases involving sex crimes.

Butler faced 13 counts of statutory sex offense, two counts of statutory rape and three counts of taking indecent liberties with a child. The jury deliberated for most of the day before returning its verdict. Butler was found guilty of all the charges.

Butler, wearing a tan suit, showed no emotion when he was sentenced. When Judge L. Todd Burke asked him if he wanted to say anything, Butler replied, “No, sir.”

Prosecutor Pansy Glanton said that Butler committed the sexual offenses against the girl between June 2004 and September 2005. The girl was 14 when the relationship started, and had turned 15 by the time it ended.

Butler was arrested in 2006, after the girl reported the relationship to a school counselor.

The 12-member jury heard the graphic details of the relationship during the five-day trial.

The relationship was confusing to the girl, who Glanton said had developed a crush on Butler. She eventually fell in love with him.

The girl had a troubled background. She was molested when she was 7-years-old and wanted a father figure in her life. Butler filled that role, Glanton said. Butler offered to give the girl weekly counseling sessions after she fainted during a panic attack at church. The girl’s mother, who was also involved in a relationship with Butler, agreed to the sessions. The mother demanded that Butler stop the sessions after he announced to church members he would not marry her. Butler told Glanton in court that he wanted to “encourage self-esteem” by taking the girl to get her nails done, buying her gifts, taking her out to eat, and sending her Valentine’s Day cards signed with the pet name she gave him, “Daddy D.”

The girl responded by sending Butler text messages saying that she loved him. She kissed him on the cheek and rubbed his leg during one of at least two trips to Hickory, according to testimony.

The girl “had so many issues when this man came into her life, and he took advantage of those issues,” Glanton said during her closing argument. “He was her first love, and he led her to believe he loved her.”

When Butler was questioned by his attorney, Teresa Stewart, he admitted that he stayed with the girl in a hotel in Hickory but denied having a sex with her. He later told Glanton that he believed that the hotel stays were normal because he “embraced (the girl) as a daughter.”

Forensic experts found no DNA from Butler to link him to a crime. They tested two pairs of panties and a church fan that Winston-Salem police found in his Cadillac. Blood on the panties and the fan matched the girl’s blood, forensic experts said.

Butler said he did not know how the panties got in the trunk of his car. He said because he ended the relationship with the girl’s mother, she pushed her daughter to bring false charges against him.

Stewart said during closing arguments that Butler should have ended the relationship when the girl developed a crush. But as a pastor, she said, he wanted to continue to try to help the girl.

Burke consolidated the charges into two counts of statutory rape and one count of statutory sex offense. He then sentenced Butler to a minimum of 20 years and a maximum of 24 years and 9 months. He must serve 20 years before he is eligible for release.

After the sentencing, about 30 supporters of Butler walked out the courtroom, many away wiping tears. Some supporters were members of Butler’s church, which is on Vargrave Street, and has about 35 members.

The girl is still in therapy, and has missed her high-school exams, Glanton said.

“She now has to learn how to have a normal relationship with males and to have faith in ministers,” Glanton said. “I think she said it best when she said she didn’t know whether to be a woman or a child in that relationship.”

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