David Pierce, the convicted sex offender who served for nearly three decades as minister of music at Benton's First Baptist Church, has left prison. However, he will be under the supervision of the Kentucky Department of Corrections for the next seven years.
Pierce, 59, was granted parole from the Arkansas Department of Correction slightly less than two months ago, but was not allowed to leave immediately because of stipulations that required him to seek residency out of state.
He was released Tuesday from the Randall L. Williams Unit in Pine Bluff after arrangements were completed for Kentucky officials to supervise his case through the Interstate Compact Transfer Process.
One of the conditions of his parole was that another state had to agree to accept the Level 3 sex offender before he could leave the Arkansas penitentiary.
Rumors circulated this past weekend that Pierce already had left the facility to reside in Kentucky, but state Parole Board officials said his release did not occur until Tuesday morning.
Pierce, the son of a retired Baptist minister, has relatives living in the Lexington, Ky., area where he will be residing.
Rhonda Sharp, spokesperson for the Parole Board, said the arrangement for Pierce notes that he will be under the care of Kentucky correctional officials from March 20, 2012, until Aug. 24, 2019.
As part of a negotiated plea entered in Saline County Circuit Court, Pierce was convicted of four counts of sexual indecency with a child and drew a 10-year prison term. The sentence actually included two six-year terms to run concurrently and two four-year terms to run concurrently, followed by an additional term of two years' suspended imposition of sentence.
The four felony counts in Pierce's conviction involved three separate victims who were former members of First Baptist Church's Pure Energy youth choir, which Pierce directed. Initially, he was charged with 54 counts, but 50 of the counts were dropped through negotiations.
The recent decision of the seven-member Arkansas Parole Board to grant parole for Pierce was unanimous, Sharp said following the ruling. At the time Pierce's parole was approved, Sharp noted that his release from the Pine Bluff correctional facility likely would not be occurring any time soon since a specific procedure is involved in the move to another state that would in turn assume his supervision.
Sharp explained that Pierce's transfer to another state would involve his participation in the nationwide program that allows offenders to move from state to state and continue to be supervised. Following a prisoner's application to another state, that state in turn conducts an investigation to determine whether to accept the person for supervision, Sharp said.
One of the stipulations of Pierce's parole is that he cannot reside in Arkansas nor can he come within 50 miles of Saline County.
Sharp previously noted that the crime for which Pierce was convicted is what is considered an "undeniable offense," meaning that the Parole Board does not have the option of denying him parole.
"The board's options are to grant parole for this kind of charge or defer it," she explained. Denial was not an option, she reiterated.
John Felts, chairman of the Parole Board, said in January that the board would have preferred to deny parole for Pierce, but this was not an option once Pierce had complied with all the terms that had been set for him.
The Arkansas Legislature took this discretion away from the Parole Board several years back, purportedly as part of an effort to address prison overcrowding. Several lawmakers hope eventually to change the legislation to give the Parole Board more authority in its decisions for cases such as Pierce's.
Several deferrals are allowed and Pierce's parole previously has been deferred following hearings in which he was given certain stipulations, including completing the Reduction of Sexual Victimization Program for sex offenders. He completed this program some time back.
Other stipulations the board imposed on Pierce included:
•He will have electronic monitoring.
•He can have no contact with any of the victims or their families.
•He cannot have any contact with minors without adult supervision.
•He cannot date women who have minor children.
•He must register as a sex offender.
•He will need to obtain employment; if he cannot find employment, he must perform community service until the time that he is employed.
At the time Pierce was informed by church leaders that he was being terminated from the minister of music position he had held for 29 years, he acknowledged his behavior, but never apologized, leaders said. At one point, Pierce stated that he did not consider anything he had done to be criminally wrong, authorities said.
Pierce was first arrested in April 2009 on one count of sexual abuse with a child and then released on bond. He was arrested a second time when the 53 additional child felony accounts were added. He later was released on a second bond agreement and the number of counts was eventually reduced to four.
All of the victims of Pierce's abuse had been affiliated with the First Baptist Pure Energy youth choir, which Pierce directed.
The activity attributed to Pierce dates back as far as 20 years, authorities said, but the statute of limitations had passed on many of the incidents. The incidents occurred "in and around the rural areas of Saline County and also occurred in the church," Sheriff Bruce Pennington said following Pierce's arrest.
The initial complaints about Pierce were filed with the Saline County Department of Human Services, authorities reported. That department then contacted the Arkansas State Police's Crime Against Children Unit, which assisted in the investigation.
According to documents from the case file assembled by Sgt. Alison Scifres of the Sheriff's Office, for much of the two decades preceding his arrest, Pierce used his position of authority and trust over young boys as their choir director or voice coach to involve them in his own sexual gratification.
One of the victims appeared before the Parole Board to share his views on Pierce. In that hearing, the 31-year-old man told the board members that Pierce is not remorseful and he predicted that he will become a repeat offender if he should be released into society.
The victim said he has permanent scars as the result of the abuse he suffered from Pierce.
He told The Saline Courier that Pierce "always had a group of three guys he was pretty close to. He told us that Jesus had the 12 disciples, but there were three he was closest to ... that was his justification for choosing three."
This individual has been one of the chosen three at one time, which was how Pierce "sold it," the victim said.
"It was a cool deal to have this person you looked up to spiritually and musically showing special interest in you. We started going to lunch and going on drives. It was all innocent at first.
"Then we started having what he called accountability time together," he said. "David called it 'the four S's.' He would check us spiritually, scholastically, socially and sexually.
"The longer this went on, the more attention he paid to us sexually," he said. "The questions became more pointed and much more detailed as things progressed. This led to pretty detailed conversations about masturbation, which evolved into some of the more inappropriate things ....
"This was a very systematic process and was basically brainwashing ... It was probably ninth grade when it started to really get inappropriate, such as the 'charting' thing. This started innocently — he would measure our height and weight, just to see how we had grown and matured — and he would record it just to compare us (to ourselves) as we got older and also against each other. This developed into measuring our private parts, which led to a kind of mutual masturbation.
"He would say things like 'we've already done this. I can measure you, and we might as well finish. He would watch us, and then he would do his thing."
While this activity was taking place in the church, pornography was displayed on Pierce's computer, the man said.
Other accounts noted that similar activities occurred at a site on the Saline River.
The victim said the abuse "continued for years."
"We'll never know how many guys were affected —dozens, maybe triple digits — some who either don't want to talk about it, or they can't."
Ironically, the man said, Pierce never told any of the boys not to tell anybody. "He never had to. He was so good at what he did."
And if anyone had reported the abuse, the victim said, "no one would have believed it because this was David. He knew that we wouldn't say anything about what happened to us."
"Everybody that David chose was involved in church," the man said. "He chose leaders in youth group, young people involved in the spiritual community of Saline County and at school, which was a pretty devious plan on his part."
The victim told the Courier that he reported the incident to church officials in January 2009, but authorities were not notified until three months later. Pierce was arrested at that time.
The victim said Pierce was present for his meeting with the church pastor, Dr. Rick Grant, and the chairman of the congregation's Personnel Committee.
"It was so obvious to me that David had no remorse for what he did," the victim told The Courier. "He never denied anything that happened with me. He didn't admit to everything with me ... nor did he admit to the number of guys, but he didn't deny any accusations that I made. He did not at one time apologize. He asked for forgiveness, but never acknowledged the wrongness of his actions.
"He never acknowledged that what he did to me or other survivors had lasting consequences. In that meeting he asked if I would go to lunch with him to talk about what had happened, which was a perfect example of his mentality.
"David is just like lot of similar skilled con man or a very talented actor or really an undercover police officer, because he honestly believes the things that come out of his mouth are true. He doesn't see himself as styling lies."
The meeting with church officials concluded with "the four of us praying together," the victim said. "I got up and started to leave, but David asked me to wait a minute. While I was standing in the office, he went to a copying machine and came back with a one-page devotional on forgiveness. He asked me to read it and think about it. I took it and turned around and walked out.
"It's one of those moments that haunts me," he said, adding that Pierce "was allowed to continue directing the youth."