Maricopa County Attorney's Office Explains Light Sentence for Jehovah's Witness Elder Convicted of Sex Crimes

David Clark Nelson, a former Jehovah's Witness elder, pleaded guilty to charges that he played strip poker and had oral sex with a teenage boy in 1980. He was sentenced this morning to six months in county jail and three years' probation. If that seems like a light sentence, that's because it is. However, there are some details about the case that caused Nelson's slap on the wrist.

Jerry Cobb, spokesman for the Maricopa County Attorneys Office, tells New Times that the initial charges against Nelson had to be changed when detectives were unable to confirm the age of the boy at the time of the abuse.

"When the victim first came forward, 30 years after [the abuse], the detective determined he [had been]14," Cobb says.

However, in a secondary interview, the victim wasn't sure if he was 14 or 15 at the time of the abuse, which makes a huge difference in the eyes of the law (just ask Susan Brock, who is currently serving a 13-year prison sentence for a sexual relationship she had with a teenager, beginning when the boy was 14).

Sexual abuse of a child 14 or younger is a Class 2 felony, with much harsher penalties than abuse of a child who is 15 or older.

Another problem with the case, Cobb points out, is that Nelson had to be sentenced under 1981 sentencing guidelines, which were less severe than today's.

Regardless, David Nelson got off light.

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