Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Pastor from Lowell convicted for sexually abusing young girl

Nearly two years after a Lowell pastor was first arrested on charges of sexually abusing a pre-teenage girl, a Gaston County jury convicted him Monday morning.

Keith Devon Pettis, 44, of the 8600 block of Catawba Cove Drive, south of Gastonia, was found guilty of nine counts that included taking indecent liberties with a child and sex offense of a child, among other charges. The former pastor of New Life Christian Center was sentenced to between 20 and 24½ years in prison.

The conviction followed a five-day trial that ran throughout last week. Jurors deliberated for three hours Friday afternoon, recessed for the weekend, then reconvened Monday morning and reached the verdict before lunch.

New Life Christian Center is tucked into a small residential neighborhood on Robbins Street, not far from the eastern end of the Franklin Square shopping center in Gastonia. Investigators said early on that the charges did not involve Pettis’ activities at the church, nor any parishioners there.

Pettis was arrested in August 2009 on charges that he sexually abused a 12-year-old girl in his home in August 2006 by performing a sex act on her. He allegedly sexually abused her again on Sept. 1, 2008, and Sept. 20, 2008, then forced her to perform a sex act on him in February and March of 2009.

Shortly after his arrest, he posted a $50,000 secured bond and was released from the Gaston County Jail.

Gaston County Assistant District Attorney Stephanie Hamlin inherited the case this year after one of her colleagues retired and another one took another job. She said she quickly took it under wing and put it on the first available trial calendar.

“It was an important case to me, with him being in the role he was in with this girl,” she said.

Testimony during the trial revolved in part around DNA evidence. Members of Pettis’ church family and other friends were there throughout the trial, as well as supporters of his accuser.

“These cases are emotional,” said Hamlin. “I’m glad the jurors took their time and made a decision they felt was right.”

Pettis’ Gastonia attorney, Larry Hoyle, could not be reached for comment Monday afternoon, nor could anyone at New Life Christian Center.

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