Mahwah pastor refused a plea offer Tuesday, electing instead to stand trial on charges that he had sex with an underage member of his church.
The decision comes two months after a jury found the Rev. Curtis Franklin guilty of second-degree sexual assault for having sex with a different underage parishioner.
Under the deal that Franklin rejected Tuesday, he would have pleaded guilty to five sexual assault counts in exchange for spending 10 years behind bars. Now, if a jury convicts him at trial, Franklin could be sentenced to up to 50 years in prison.
Dressed in an orange prison suit and shackled at the wrists, waist, and ankles, Franklin stood beside his Garfield attorney, Amy Lefkowitz, as Superior Court Judge Edward Jerejian scheduled the next hearing in the matter for September 4. Franklin looked back at the gallery three times Tuesday, mouthing the words “I love you guys” to a pair of relatives.
Franklin, who was an assistant pastor at the Mahwah Full Gospel Church, was arrested in 2009 and charged with having sex with a young parishioner. Bergen County prosecutors alleged that he befriended the girl and engaged in sexual acts with her on several occasions, beginning when the girl was 12 years old.
He went to trial last year on that charge, but the case ended in a mistrial after a juror conducted online research on the case in violation of court rules, bringing printouts of articles into the jury room during deliberations and distributing them to the other jurors.
Earlier this year, Franklin was tried on charges that he molested another underage parishioner for years starting when the girl was 15.
Franklin, a 46-year-old father of two, argued during the trial that he had consensual sex with the girl, and that he never had sex with her before she was 16 — the age of consent in New Jersey.
The jury in that case deliberated for less than two days before convicting him of second-degree sexual assault.
Franklin’s bail was revoked after his conviction and he has since been held at the Bergen County Jail in Hackensack awaiting his Sept. 28 sentencing. He faces up to 10 years in prison in that case, followed by lifelong parole and registration under Megan’s Law.