Former church Bishop Hornbuckle may be paroled soon

Posted Sunday, Mar. 10, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Those who want to check on the timing of the parole decision can call the Palestine Institutional Parole Office at 903-729-3698. Those who wish to comment on Hornbuckle's possible early release should write the Palestine Institutional Parole Office at 118 S. Royall St., Palestine, TX 75801.

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FORT WORTH -- Once a rock star pastor at a church with more than 2,000 members, the charismatic Terry Hornbuckle found himself called a sinner, a liar, a cheat and a drug addict at his 2006 sexual assault trial.

This month, the former bishop of the Agape Christian Fellowship church in Arlington could be released from prison, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

Hornbuckle, 51, formerly of Colleyville and now housed in the Powledge Unit in Palestine in East Texas, was deemed eligible for parole Feb. 24. He was convicted Aug. 22, 2006, of sexually assaulting three women and was given sentences of 15, 10 and 14 years, the department's records say.

The court ordered Hornbuckle to serve 15 years with the other two sentences concurrently and also ordered him to pay a $30,000 fine. Two of the women Hornbuckle was convicted of raping testified that they were drugged before they were raped and two were members of the church that Hornbuckle founded with his ex-wife, Renee.

Renee Hornbuckle, who now leads the church, declined to comment directly on the possibility of parole, but her ministry issued a statement indicating that it wanted to put that part of the church's history behind it.

"Since the guilty conviction and subsequent incarceration of Terry Hornbuckle, any and all business and/or ministry relationships between him and Agape Christian Fellowship have been totally and legally severed," the church said by email.

"The ministry has been under the leadership of Dr. Renee Fowler Hornbuckle, who since Mr. Hornbuckle's incarceration, has divorced him and has maintained the ministry without issue," it went on. "Agape Church and all associated organizations are not, in anyway, affiliated with Mr. Hornbuckle. Furthermore, the ministry has no comments regarding his pending parole or any other matter pertaining to him."

But Hornbuckle's family says it is standing behind the disgraced cleric. "Terry realizes where he's failed and regrets having caused pain, hurt and confusion to all those affected by his indiscretions for which he takes full responsibility," a sister, Dyann Hornbuckle-Watson, said in an e-mail.

"During the nearly eight years in prison Terry has paid a tremendous price for his sin and has suffered the permanent loss of his family, precious moments with his children, spending the last days with our beloved father who is now deceased, his home, assets, ministry and so much more.

"As permitted to any man, woman and child, who recognizes their error and chooses a different path, Terry deserves the opportunity to have another chance to get it right. He has served time in prison with integrity and been a model inmate making productive use of his time.

After the verdict, prosecutors Sean Colston and Betty Arvin praised jurors for giving Hornbuckle a long prison sentence, vindicating the women who came forward. Arvin said she and Colston oppose Hornbuckle's early release.

"He devastated a lot of people's lives and shook their faith," Arvin said Friday.

Defense attorney Mike Heiskell, who represented Hornbuckle with Leon Haley Jr., said they had hoped for probation on compassionate grounds so the methamphetamine-addicted father of three could get drug treatment.

Heiskell, who said he has not met with his former client, said parole was made for people like him. Now that Hornbuckle has been in prison more than six years and his drug problem has been dealt with, he should be able to successfully rejoin society, the lawyer said.

"I know he'll have the support of his past parishioners and his family and I know he'll be able to live as a human being with character," Heiskell said. "I am still profoundly disappointed in the lack of support of the local clergy when he was going through his ordeal. Some of the locals failed to come to the aid of someone who has sinned and fallen, and I'm still profoundly disappointed by that."

Hornbuckle, a "prosperity preacher" whose sermons promised that earthly rewards could be attained by applying biblical principles, helped grow Agape in southeast Arlington from humble beginnings. Agape Christian Fellowship began in the mid-1980s as Victory Temple Bible Church in a former Dairy Queen in Irving. Renamed Agape Christian Fellowship in 1992, it once had 2,500 members at its 42,000-square-foot facility -- assessed as being worth more than $4 million before the trial.

Supporters say Hornbuckle deserves a second chance to be with his children and family.

"It is my understanding from the information that I have received that he has been a model inmate," Haley said. "I would hope the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles would allow him back into society so he can redeem himself."

The board reviews cases of more than 100,000 inmates annually. Because of the heavy caseload, the exact date when the panel will decide on Hornbuckle is unknown, board spokesman Harry Batson said.

But he added, "The case has been under review for a while so I would expect a decision soon."

Victims of an offender may speak with the lead voter on cases that involved them, he said. Court and law enforcement officials can make their views known to the board in writing, and those letters are placed in an offender file that voting board members can access, the spokesman said.

Typically, an offender who comes up for eligibility is interviewed by a parole officer who makes sure that everything that should be in the file is there, Batson said. The officer will interview the offender, write a report based on his or her conclusions and place the report in the file, he said.

The file goes before at least two voters and if they share the same view, that agreement becomes the ruling, Batson said. If the two disagree, the file is reviewed by a third voter, Batson said. "Any material submitted to the board is confidential. It's one of the safeguards we employ. Even if you were in support you would not necessarily want the public to know what you are saying about this individual."

Mitch Mitchell, 817-390-7752

Twitter: @mitchmitchel3

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