When a Benton man, then in his late 20s, met with First Baptist Church officials in January of 2009 to levy accusations of sexual abuse against the congregation's minister of music — who was present and did not deny the charges — the victim expected the church to prohibit the offender from future contact with members of the youth choir he directed.
This didn't happen. Nearly three months passed before David Pierce was fired from the position he had held for nearly three decades. Last week this individual — who counts himself among an unknown number of victims of Pierce's systematic, prolonged abuse — spoke to the Arkansas Parole Board to apprise the members of the kind of "unrepentant, unremorseful monster" the Parole Board is considering releasing from the Arkansas Department of Correction.
The board currently is scheduled to vote Jan. 26 on Pierce's parole request and will announce its decision Jan. 31.
The victim, who spoke with The Saline Courier under a promise of anonymity, said he is not so naive as to think that the board can keep Pierce incarcerated for the remainder of his life — as much as he wishes this were possible
Though Pierce at one time faced 54 counts of sexual indecency with a child, through a negotiated plea he was convicted of only four counts representing three victims. He was sentenced to two six-year terms to run concurrently and two four-year terms to run concurrently, followed by an additional term of two years' suspended imposition of sentence.
Because of the type of crime that led to Pierce's conviction — one that did not involve a more involved sexual act — parole is automatic at some point for Pierce, his victim said.
Parole Board officials also have acknowledged this. Pierce's charges aren't among those, such as murder and rape, over which the board has such discretion. The board's only option in Pierce's case is to defer parole and has done so twice already.
"It's an interesting situation," the victim said. "The charges of sexual indecency with a child fall into a certain group of charges that are classified as 'undeniable.' This means that the parole board doesn't have any choice: They can either defer or parole, while others they can flat out deny. "I'm sure there are some logistical reasons for this — prisons are overcrowded, they want to move people out — but if David had been charged with something else, if he'd ever touched one of us and been charged with sexual assault, it would be different and parole could be denied. But even with 54 counts and a 20-year sentence, it still cannot be done.
"I told them (Parole Board members) the first thing when I walked up to the podium ... was that I knew without a shadow of doubt that David Pierce is an unrepentant, unremorseful monster. He has never once expressed any acknowledgement of long-term effects to any of his victims. I have no doubt that he doesn't even think of us as victims because in his mind, we are still people he tried to help."
Referring again to his January 2009 meeting with church officials, the victim noted that in addition to Pierce, those present were the church's senior pastor, the Rev. Rick Grant, and the chairman of the congregation's Personnel Committee.
"It was so obvious to me that David had no remorse for what he did. He never denied anything that happened with me. He didn't admit to everything with me ... nor did he admit to the number of guys, but he didn't deny any accusations that I made. He did not at one time apologize. He asked for forgiveness, but never acknowledged the wrongness of his actions.
"He never acknowledged that what he did to me or other survivors had lasting consequences. In that meeting he asked if I would go to lunch with him to talk about what had happened, which was a perfect example of his mentality, David is just like lot of similar skilled con man or a very talented actor or really an undercover police officer, because he honestly believes the things that come out of his mouth are true. He doesn't see himself as styling lies.
"Where others were not successful, David got away with this for 25 or 30 years," he said. "Really, we don't know how long it went on because no one knows when or where it started."
The meeting with church officials concluded with "the four of us praying together," he said. "I got up and started to leave, but David asked me to wait a minute. While I was standing in the office, he went to a copying machine and came back with a one-page devotional on forgiveness. He asked me to read it and think about it. I took it and turned around and walked out.
"It's one of those moments that haunts me. He was allowed to continue directing the youth. They (church officials) could have and should have done something more, but they didn't."
Though Pierce didn't deny the victim's accusations, he did have an excuse, the victim said.
"David had a great explanation for all of it," the victim said. "He said it was 'a rough patch in his life.' He said it was something he had worked through and was no longer an issue for him, no longer something he engaged in. We obviously know at this point it was a lie, and I had no doubt at the time it was.
"It's pretty obvious looking back on it that the way they (church officials) chose to handle it when I came forward and the way they later chose to handle it with the congregation — they told the church that David was being terminated for 'some serious moral issues' — that they were protecting the congregation or protecting David's family or trying to protect the church. In hindsight, it appears this was something they did not want to become common knowledge.
"Part of what bothers me is that I felt like for really no reason that I had an obligation to protect those kids who were still in youth choir," the victim said. "I don't understand that they didn't share this and see this, but he was left in complete control of the youth choir until he was terminated. I didn't understand it then and I still don't now."
Victim predicts future acts
The victim shared what he considered to be the most significant thing he said to the Parole Board: "I told them that I absolutely know he will re-offend. It's no different than sending a 10-year heroin user to prison for a year and expecting him to come out and be clean on his own. It doesn't happen. It's no secret that you don't fix pedaphiles.
"Arkansas is still behind in the way the law addresses these kind of things. In Arkansas it's still a misdemeanor to show pornography to a minor. Almost everyone of us was shown pornography on David's computer at the church. If that were a felony, that would have kept him in prison.
"A bill to change that law went before the last session of the state Legislature, but it didn't pass," the victim noted.
Also, he pointed out that the statute of limitations on bringing charges in such matters was a factor in his case and for other victims.
"When I came forward, David couldn't be charged. At the age I was when the abuse occurred, the statute of limitations was five years and this had already passed. This goes against every piece of research on survivors of sexual abuse, for it's almost impossible for someone to come forward while it's happening or shortly after it stops. There's no telling how many people it happened to.
"Some modifications to the law have occurred, he said, which had they been in place earlier might have altered the situation for him, the victim said.
Parole Board chance to 'make things right'
Speaking to the Parole Board was "difficult in some ways," but a relief in other ways, the victim said. "One of the things I told them was that I feel like in last four or five years, I passed a lot of opportunities to speak my mind. There were a lot of times I could have been more forceful. I could have said more things, expressed myself better and maybe some outcomes would be better. Maybe I could have stopped some kids from being victimized, but I didn't get this chance when I went to the church to try to do this.
"Speaking before the Parole Board, to me, felt like a chance for me to make that right," he added. "It was a chance for me to atone for those times I didn't speak up.
"They were very receptive, very supportive ... several spoke up and thanked me for having the courage to come and talk to them, which was not something I expected. I kind of expected it to be like a courtroom where you give testimony and nothing is said."
The victim noted that another hearing will be held for Pierce on Jan. 24, which will be his actual parole hearing before the board votes on his request.
"I feel there are a lot of things that I could still say. I know he's going to be released in time. I came to that conclusion a long time ago." He said he did not go to the parole board hearing seeking justice. "The concept of justice is great for people looking in from the outside. When you're in this position that I'm in, there is nothing you can think of that is justice for David Pierce. I've thought of a lot of different ways that justice could be served.
"In the long run. for there to be justice, in my mind it should be something to make me feel better, and I can think of nothing.
"There are lots of things that I've done for myself with the help of counselors and friends that have gotten me to the place I am today.
"These have nothing to do with the law and what David could do," he added.
"My entire motivation was twofold in going to the Parole Board: To give me a chance to speak up to make up for the times I didn't speak up and could have, and to express that he needs to stay in jail to keep him from doing it again.
"While he's there, he won't victimize any 13-year-olds," he added.
But he reiterated that "when he gets out, he will re-offend."
Though the victim says he was stunned at the manner in which his allegations were received by First Baptist officials, he says their manner in dealing with the situation was in keeping with the way other Southern Baptist congregations have handled such matters. "They're not putting systems into place to report these things, and where no system is in place, there is no data base. Offenders can move from place to place, and this may have happened with David. We don't know that."
Victims chosen as preteens, early teens
The victim noted that the abuse he suffered from Pierce began the summer after his seventh grade. "It was in my eighth-grade year, which was the typical age he selected boys."
According to documents from the case file assembled by Detective Alison Hoskins of the Saline County Sheriff's Office, for much of 20 years Pierce used his position of authority and trust over young boys as their choir director or voice coach to involve them in his own sexual gratification.
Court records note that Pierce would "groom boys as young as 11 or 12" by taking an extra interest in their participation in youth choir. During the years of Pierce's tutelage, he would entangle discussions of a sexual nature with the boys' choir participation.
As the boys reached puberty, Pierce introduced them to a process he called "charting," the case file notes. In this process, Pierce convinced the boys that in order for them to progress in the areas of voice and choir that he needed to take measurements of their bodies, including measuring their genitals. Pierce kept records of these measurements through the years. After Pierce introduced the boys to charting, which reportedly was done on a legal pad, he would commonly have the boys masturbate in front of him, the case file notes. It also notes that often he would "then expose himself to the boys and masturbate."
The incidents would occur at the church or wherever Pierce could get the boys alone, the case file notes.
One of the victims told authorities that Pierce took him to a cabin in a county location where, in addition to the charting, he also spoke with him about sexual activities, such as masturbation. Pierce allegedly told the teenager that he had a "strong bond with all past presidents in the student ministry and would do 'charting' with them," the records show.
Saline County Prosecuting Attorney Ken Casady this week reiterated his objections to Pierce being released. He has said repeatedly that Pierce fits the profile of a sexual predator.
Pierce has been diagnosed as a Level 3 sex offender. Level 4 is the highest classification for a sex offender. According to the Risk Assessment and Offender Profile Report, Pierce fits the Level 3 designation because he is a repeat sexual offender with a strong antisocial, predatory personality. This was noted in a letter from Casady, which is included in Pierce's case file. When he is released, he will be classified as a sex offender and will be required to abide by the restrictions the law imposes on these individuals.