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Wednesday, June 11, 2008                                                                                       View Comments

Former Regent assistant dean faces sexual assault charges

A former Regent University law school assistant dean has been indicted on 13 felony sexual assault charges involving two girls, according to court records.

The allegations against Stephen L. McPherson, 39, of Chesapeake include object sexual penetration, forcible sodomy, and taking indecent liberties with a child by a custodian.

The charges, reported to Chesapeake police in July 2007, stem from events between May 2000 and May 2002, according to the indictments handed up Tuesday by a Chesapeake grand jury. The girls' ages weren't available Friday.

A conviction on the penetration charge is punishable by up to life in prison.

McPherson and his wife worked from August 1996 to August 2000 as house parents supervising a cottage of as many as eight girls at Hope Haven Children's Home on North Landing Road in Virginia Beach, said Linda Jones, a spokeswoman for Union Mission Ministries, which operates the home. Hope Haven, founded in 1965, provides Christian-based care for children from "distressed family situations," according to its Web site.

McPherson is a grandson of the Rev. Theodore Bashford, executive director of the ministries for 52 years, Jones said Friday.

"We are very saddened by the whole thing," she said.

After they left Hope Haven, the McPhersons adopted three girls over the objections of Hope Haven, Jones said. The shelter opposes staff adoptions to avoid interfering with relationships between children and the parents who place them there, Jones said.

McPherson volunteered at Hope Haven during his high school and college summers, Jones said.

In October 1998, t wo years after being hired as a house parent, he also became development director and general counsel.Along the way, Jones said, McPherson and his wife underwent the same screening process as everyone else, such as criminal background checks, character references, interviews and spending time with the staff.

Since 1991, the facility has had a counselor working 20 hours a week on site, talking with the children and staff members.

"The accusations against him came as a great surprise to us because no child, parent or staff member ever questioned Steve's performance at Hope Haven," Jones said in a statement.

The McPhersons have two young boys, Jones said.

After leaving Hope Haven in 2000, McPherson started work at Regent in Virginia Beach as a writing instructor. He rose to assistant dean for student affairs.

He resigned in 2007, said Judith Baker, a spokeswoman.

He received his law degree and a master's degree in business administration from Regent in 1996. He earned a bachelor's degree from Old Dominion University in 1991.

McPherson is expected to turn himself in next week, said his lawyer, Lawrence Woodward Jr., who declined to comment on specifics of the case.

"My client is, of course, somewhat well-respected in the community," Woodward said. "It's just sad for him and his family that these charges have been brought."

A message left Friday at the most recent number available for the McPhersons wasn't immediately returned. No one came to their door in the 700 block of Seabrooke Lane.