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Thursday, March 08, 2007                                                                                       View Comments

Latham cleared of lewdness charge

Lonnie Latham, the former pastor of South Tulsa Baptist Church, was found not guilty Wednesday of a misdemeanor charge of offering to engage in a lewd act.

The verdict came in his two-week nonjury trial in Oklahoma County District Court more than a year after his arrest in Oklahoma City.

Latham was arrested Jan. 3, 2006, after he allegedly invited a male undercover Oklahoma City police officer to his hotel room for sex. No money was involved.

Latham did not return phone calls seeking comment Wednesday.

His Oklahoma City attorney, Mack Martin, said Latham was ecstatic about the verdict when he spoke to him Wednesday afternoon.

Martin said Judge Roma M. McElwee ruled that Latham was not guilty but did not address the constitutionality of the law under which he was arrested.

Martin had argued in the Feb. 22 bench trial that Latham was charged under a lewdness statute that he said should be unconstitutional because of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2003 that legalized consensual sex between men.

"If it's not illegal to engage in that conduct, then it shouldn't be illegal to talk about it," he had argued.

The case drew the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief on Latham's behalf, and national gay-rights organizations, which maintained that inviting someone to a hotel room
for sex is not a crime and that no arrest would have been made if the allegation had involved a man and a woman.

If convicted, Latham could have faced up to a year in jail, a $2,500 fine and 40 to 80 hours of community service.

Before his arrest, Latham was a nationally known Baptist leader. He was a member of the executive committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, with 42,000 churches, and was a member of the board of directors of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, with 1,700 churches. He resigned from both positions after his arrest.

He became the pastor of South Tulsa Baptist Church in 2002, leaving his position as the executive director of the Tulsa Metro Baptist Association, now the Tulsa Metro Association of Baptist Churches.

As a spokesman for Southern Baptists, he often defended the church's opposition to same-sex relationships.