Louisiana pastor charged with sexual abuse of teenage girl

Authorities in Louisiana have charged a Pentecostal pastor with sexually molesting a teenage girl who was a member of his church.

Milton O Martin III, 56, faces one charge each of felony carnal knowledge of a juvenile – colloquially referred to as statutory rape – and of indecent behavior with a minor, records obtained by the Guardian show.

A grand jury in the New Orleans-area community of St Bernard parish indicted Martin on Tuesday, about seven months after he had been arrested in connection with the allegations and had made bail.

The case which resulted in Martin’s arrest is unrelated to the decades-old clergy abuse crisis that drove the Roman Catholic archdiocese of New Orleans into federal bankruptcy court in 2020. But it does share a link.

Scott Rodrigue, the state police detective who helped obtain the indictment against Martin, also investigated the retired New Orleans Catholic priest Lawrence Hecker, who years ago secretly admitted to church leaders that he sexually molested or harassed numerous children.

A grand jury in New Orleans initially charged Hecker with child rape and kidnapping charges in September. He was reindicted on the same charges on Thursday after a member of September’s grand jury had been deemed ineligible to serve on the panel.

Martin’s charging documents contain few details other than to allege that he committed carnal knowledge by engaging in oral sex with the accuser in about 2011 – when she was 16 – and that the indecent behavior occurred when she was between the ages of 15 and 17.

But a pending civil lawsuit that the accuser filed against Martin in August provides more details on the accusations. The lawsuit alleged Martin, the pastor of First Pentecostal Church of Chalmette, would take her out on four-wheeler rides and force her into sexual acts on breaks taken during the excursions.

The plaintiff, now 28, reported Martin to the Louisiana state police before he was arrested in March. A second accuser subsequently came forward with similar allegations against Martin that dated back even further, prompting him to be re-arrested in April.

The lawsuit filed in August asserts that the First Pentecostal church did nothing to investigate earlier sexual abuse claims against Martin. The plaintiff also accuses the Worldwide Pentecostal Fellowships to which the church belonged of failing to properly supervise Martin around children, and the lawsuit demands damages from both institutions.

Coincidentally, the plaintiff’s attorneys are Richard Trahant, Soren Giselson and John Denenea, who also represent the victim at the center of the indictment against Hecker.

Counts pertaining to Martin’s arrest in April were not included in the indictment handed up against him Tuesday, though that does not stop authorities from adding those charges later.

Martin could receive a maximum of 10 years in prison if convicted of felony carnal knowledge. He could also receive up to another seven years if found guilty of indecent behavior with a minor, which Louisiana law defines as any “lewd or lascivious act” upon a person who is younger than 17.

The state attorney general’s office is prosecuting Martin after the local district attorney filed to recuse his staff from the case. The district attorney did not elaborate on the reason for his office’s recusal.

The first judge assigned to preside over Martin’s case recused herself, too, indicating that her administrative assistant is the cousin of the defendant’s wife.