Christians rally in support of the minister
ASHEVILLE – A former church youth leader was sentenced to at least 14 years and four months in prison Wednesday after pleading guilty to seven counts of indecent liberties with a child.
The charges against Leonard Smith date back 20 years and involve three children. Three more serious charges, which were dropped in a plea bargain, date to 1976.
David Clement, spokesman for the extended family that brought charges against Smith, said he is pleased with the jail sentence.
“We knew him and his family for 30 years,” Clement said. “We trusted him and we loved him. … You can’t undo love, but if anybody needs the light turned on them, it’s a pedophile.”
Smith, 53, was music director and worked with the youths of Sycamore Temple Church of God in Christ in Asheville.
About 50 people turned out in support of Smith, and six ministers and three others testified in support of mercy in sentencing him. The other side of the courtroom, where the Clement family sat, was nearly empty.
“We have been ostracized,” Clement said. “Not one church leader has reached out to us.”
The Rev. Charles Mosley said he still sees Smith as a Christian man who has done good things in the church and the community.
“He is still needed in the church,” Mosley said. “He is still needed with the young people. He is still needed with the senior adults.”
Assistant District Attorney Kate Dreher jump-ed in, asking whether Mosley knew Smith was performing sex acts on boys.
“And you still say the youth need him?” she said.
Dreher called Smith “a pedophile masquerading as a man of God.”
Each of the nine people who testified on behalf of Smith said they believed he deserved punishment but each also asked for mercy.
“It hurts,” said the Rev. L.C. Ray, pastor of Greater Mount Zion Baptist Church and co-founder of the youth mentoring agency One Youth at a Time. “It really hurts. But I can’t get around the fact that God calls me to fall on the side of mercy.”
The Rev. Louis Grant, pastor of Little Mount Zion and Mount Carmel Baptist churches in West Asheville, called for the church to apologize.
He also said Smith should get counseling, and that both the Smith and Clement families should get counseling for all the damage that has been done.
Smith was arrested in May after a member of the Clement family said he had been molested by Smith, and then two other family members came forward.
Before Judge James Downs issued the sentence, Smith spoke to the court.
As he rose, weeping, his attorney, Todd Williams, told the judge Smith had been molested as a youth and never told anyone.
Smith, who uses a walker and has health problems, apologized to the Clement family and to his own family, and then tried to explain his actions.
“In these situations, the care and concern went a little too far,” he said. “I shouldn’t have overstepped my boundaries.”
Smith went on to describe the good deeds he had done for children. He also said he never “manipulated” any child in his care.
District Attorney Ron Moore said after the sentencing he was not impressed with Smith’s words.
“It was not much of an apology,” he said.
Downs sentenced Smith to 16-20 months in jail for each of four counts of indecent liberties with a child that happened after 1994, when sentencing laws changed, and three years each for the three counts that occurred before 1994, all to be served consecutively.