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September 5, 2018, a Knox County Court has given a former youth minister who pled guilty to soliciting an underage girl for sex, the chance for judicial diversion.
Jaon Evan Kennedy, a 48 year old father of three was caught up in a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation undercover sting in May 2016. It was his first offense and it was a felony. Another layman pastor from a different parish was also arrested during the same sweep and accused of soliciting a minor for sex. His sentencing is later this month.
What stands out in this case is Mr. Kennedy’s sentence. 30 days in jail and 6 years supervised probation, with the opportunity to have his name removed from the registry and his conviction for solicitation of a minor erased, completely, if he successfully completes his probation.
Of course this is great news for Mr. Kennedy. The deal of a lifetime if you ask me. 30 days in jail, 6 years probation and then he’s home free with a clear record.
No registry. No past history of an offense. Who wouldn’t want that?
In making a case for judicial diversion, Mr. Kennedy’s attorney, Gregory P. Issacs argued that his client had lost his ministry and his family, that he had already been punished, suffering greatly due to the publicity surrounding his case. His client had moved out of state and was receiving counseling and hoped to be able to use this experience in the future as a way to minister to others in similar situations.
Of course the Knox County District Attorney, Sarah Keith saw things differently. She used Mr. Kennedy’s psychosexual evaluation results, which included confessions of having visited prostitutes numerous times over the months leading up to his arrest and guilty plea, in an attempt to get a reduced sentence, as evidence that his past should never be swept clean. According to Ms. Keith, “churches and future potential employers who conduct background checks should have the ability to learn about Mr. Kennedy’s past. It’s alarming to think that this isn’t something that will stay on his record to protect the public.”
Knox County Criminal Court Judge Steve Sword said that he himself had served in his own church as an advisor to troubled clergy and that he felt he had gotten pretty good at discerning who was truly remorseful for their actions and will benefit from church support and who will probably just go to another church and prey on others. “I’m just greatly concerned that he’s fooling himself, which is bad, or he’s trying to fool others, which is dangerous” said Sword. The Judge’s sage words to Mr. Kennedy, “I don’t think you should be involved in any type of ministry at all.”
But in the end, Judge Sword handed down a sentence that was a whole lot sweeter than what we’ve seen others receive for similar or lesser offenses. 30 days jail time and 6 years supervised probation.
And the possibility of judicial diversion, that’s the real prize in this case.
To be free, not quasi-free, but totally free with a clean record, felony free and no attachment to the registry. That’s real freedom.
Now all we need is that same Freedom for All!