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Saturday, March 25, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Sex offender going from church choir to prison bars

A convicted sex offender who directed the youth choir and taught a Bible study group at a Waco Baptist church was sentenced to 20 years in prison Friday.

Curtis Jene Smith, 38, music director and Bible teacher at Zion Hill Missionary Baptist Church, 2919 McKenzie Ave., pleaded guilty Friday to indecency with a child and was sentenced in a plea agreement by 54th State District Judge George Allen.

If Smith had gone to trial, he faced an automatic life prison term because of his convictions in 1991 for the sexual assault of two boys and in 2002 for failure to register as a sex offender, both in Burnet County.

According to court records, Smith was registered as a sex offender in Waco and told authorities he was working as a night auditor at a local hotel. His association with the church, which church officials say began in 2000, went unreported, in violation of sex offender registration restrictions.

Smith pleaded guilty to molesting a 12-year-old Waco boy in February 2005 after giving him a ride home from church youth choir practice. The boy reported to Waco police that Smith also tried to show him a pornographic videotape at his house.

"I believe that he is a typical predator-type sex offender," prosecutor Beth Toben said. "He used his position to have access to kids and then developed trust with the boy's family and was very manipulative so that he could continue to have access to the children. Based on what we know about his background, I think he will continue to do the same thing, and I hope prison officials keep him most of those 20 years."

Smith must serve at least 10 years in prison before he is eligible for parole, Toben said.

The Rev. Carl Buhl, pastor of Zion Hill Missionary Baptist Church, said Smith is a talented musician and an “outstanding” Bible instructor. He said Smith “didn't give me a minute's trouble” until the abuse allegations surfaced.

Smith was allowed to continue working at the church after he lied to Buhl and others and told them the indecency charges against him had been dismissed, Buhl said. He said church officials did not run a background check on Smith because they had known of his work at other area churches.

"I had heard some things about Curtis, but I am in the business of trying to help people," Buhl said. "But I had no idea that he wasn't supposed to be around kids. I guarantee you, there won't be anybody over here cutting the grass without a background check now. You live and learn."