- Associated Press - Saturday, January 23, 2016

WIGGINS, Miss. (AP) - A former Stone County preacher has been found guilty in the sexual battery of a girl at the church he previously led, prosecutors said.

Carlos Smith, 55, of Saucier, was pastor of Unity Baptist Church and the girl was 11 when the sexual abuse began in 2011 and continued for three years, District Attorney Joel Smith told The Sun Herald (https://bit.ly/20kPnWN ).

A Stone County jury delivered a guilty verdict Friday after deliberating about two hours.

Circuit Judge Roger Clark set Carlos Smith’s sentencing for Feb. 15. He faces 20 years to life in prison and because of the nature of the crime his prison term must be served with no consideration for early release.

Prosecutors said the girl first told a therapist about the sexual abuse.

An investigation by the Stone County Sheriff’s Department revealed Carlos Smith and the girl are related.

The girl and the therapist testified at the trial, said Matthew Burrell, the lead prosecutor in the case.

Carlos Smith took the girl to the church “when no one else was around” and molested her, Burrell said. The girl testified the abuse continued until she was 14, prosecutors said.

The girl showed courage “to take the witness stand to tell the jury about her molestation at the hands of someone she trusted,” Burrell said.

Carlos Smith’s conviction carries a requirement that he register as a sex offender all his life.

“Crimes like this one are the ultimate betrayal of the trust that is placed in the adults who are supposed to care for our children at such a vulnerable age,” Smith, the district attorney, said.

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Information from: The Sun Herald, https://www.sunherald.com

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