published Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

Former Tennessee pastor gets break in child porn sentence

A 38-year-old former Shelbyville, Tenn., youth pastor avoided a maximum 20-year sentence Monday for downloading "violent" and "sadistic" prepubescent child pornography on his home computer.

U.S. District Judge Harry S. "Sandy" Mattice sentenced Joseph Todd Neill to three years, four months for a single charge of possessing child pornography.

Near the end of his sentencing hearing Monday afternoon, Neill turned to face a group of nearly 50 family, friends and fellow congregants while in federal court here.

He first apologized to a young woman, with whom he carried on a sexual affair while she was a teenager and in his youth ministry at North Fork Baptist Church in Shelbyville.

Neill told the woman and her family that he was sorry for his mistakes. "Any good I do for the rest of my life won't erase that. I won't forgive myself for that."

He faces state charges in Bedford County on statutory rape for his relationship with the then-17-year-old girl.

His attorney, John H. Norton III, also of Shelbyville, said after the hearing that the state sentence on that charge will run concurrently with his federal prison sentence.

The state penalty for statutory rape by an authority figure carries an eight- to 30-year sentence, but Norton indicated the penalty would be at or lower than the federal sentence imposed Monday after plea negotiations.

After the hearing, the girl's family declined to comment on Neill's sentence.

It was that relationship that helped police discover the child pornography.

Shelbyville police were investigating Neill on charges of statutory rape and searched his home computer, finding 72 images of minors, 32 of whom were children. Images contained depictions of bondage and child rape and molestation of children ages 5 to 9 years old.

Though the rape investigation yielded the child porn charges, it was not considered at sentencing because none of the images was connected to the statutory rape.

Prosecutor James Brooks argued that Neill should face the higher end of his range, nearly five years.

Norton pointed to the swell of support and the lack of a criminal record as a reason to sentence his client at or below the range he faced.

Mattice said in reviewing Neill's record that this incident seemed to be isolated.

Neill has been in custody for five months, Norton said, and will receive credit for that time on his sentence. He will likely be released within three years.

Contact staff writer Todd South at tsouth@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @tsouthCTFP.

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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