Ten years ago in a Tarrant County courtroom, James “Jay“ Virtue Robinson was granted a second chance.
After months of insisting he was innocent of sexual molestation allegations and casting blame on others, the former Southwood Baptist Church pastor stood before a judge and pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting an underage teen church member.
In exchange, he was granted 10 years deferred adjudication probation — a sentence that, if completed successfully, would lead to the case’s dismissal and no conviction on his record.
But with only months left until completion, officials were tipped off in February that Robinson was violating his probation.
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Officials would soon discover that Robinson, now a married father of four, had started and was leading a new church — one that gave him unchaperoned access to children. They found he also committed other probation violations, like attending sporting events without the permission of his probation officer.
The revelation left his victim, now 28, both mad and disappointed.
“I knew that he had children and had made a life, and he put them at risk,” the woman said Wednesday. “I was disappointed that he was able to go unchecked and there could be others out there. I wanted it to stop with me.”
On Wednesday, Robinson, now 42, stood in the same courtroom, this time before State District Judge David Hagerman.
His defense attorney, Rhett Parham, asked Hagerman to address Robinson’s cavalier behavior by extending his probation.
Prosecutor Kim D’Avignon asked for 15 years in prison.
Hagerman revoked Robinson’s probation, found him guilty of the original charge of sexual assault of a child under 17 and sentenced him to 10 years in prison.
A courtroom of supporters
During the probation revocation hearing, which started Monday and concluded Wednesday, the victim and a few of her family members were greatly outnumbered by Robinson’s supporters. Their presence did not surprise the victim or her father.
“He was very good at manipulating people and maintaining favor among people,” the father said.
When Robinson was first accused of an improper relationship with the victim, he vehemently denied it.
A division within Southwood Baptist Church soon followed between those who believed him and those who didn’t. Some left the church; others were escorted out by armed guards.
In a letter Robinson sent to church members that March, he reiterated the the “accusations of moral failure” levied against him were false, and he accused the victim’s family of being used by others “who desire to wrest the leadership of this church from the pastor and the council” and would stop at nothing.
He wrote that those who cause discord in the church “are to be shunned according to scripture.”
Robinson later resigned from the church at the advice of his attorneys.
But he returned one Sunday night in August 2008, stood before the congregation he once led and admitted that he had an inappropriate relationship with an underage church member.
That same week, he pleaded guilty in exchange for the probation deal.
In a statement from the victim read aloud by a prosecutor at the 2008 hearing, the victim questioned why Robinson didn’t just confess from the beginning.
“I loved you and I thought you did me, but I guess not because all you cared to do was cover your butt,” the statement read. “If you had just come clean from the beginning I wouldn’t have been called all the horrible names that I was but it’s OK because I am strong, and I could handle it because I knew God was on my side.”
The teen also wrote that she forgave Robinson for the lies and hurt he caused and hoped he got help.
In court Monday, Robinson acknowledged he’d begun “grooming” his victim when she was 15, then lied when confronted about what he’d done.
“I did some really ugly things,” Robinson said when questioned by D’Avignon, the prosecutor, on why he got to remain at the church while the victim and her family were forced out.
“He didn’t change”
The victim said with the plea in 2008, came small victories, like knowing Robinson would have to register for life as a sex offender and be required to get help.
She and her family then went about moving on with their lives.
“Honestly, we had washed our hands of the whole deal,” the victim’s father said Wednesday. “We didn’t check on him. We never (questioned), what’s he up to? I wonder if he’s doing anything wrong?”
But a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving, the now 28-year-old victim, got a call from D’Avignon. Robinson, she learned, had been violating conditions of his probation, including starting a new church in which he’d had unchaperoned access to children.
On the website of Robinson’s church, Refuge Place, the victim’s family saw pictures that indicated Robinson was once again in a church leadership role.
“We were all flabbergasted,” the victim’s father said Wednesday.
“He didn’t change,” the victim said.
“Yeah, he didn’t change,” her father agreed. “He just got caught again, that’s all.”
Robinson admitted to violating terms of his probation.
He testified Monday that he believed he could attend sporting events as long as a chaperone was with him. He also acknowledged he made a “huge mistake” in not informing his probation officer when his role at Refuge Place evolved into becoming the church’s leader.
“Looking back at it now, I was wrong,” Robinson testified. “I felt at the time, ‘I’m not working with children. I’m not working with teenagers. I’m not violating anything.’ ”
But Robinson said there was built-in accountability at Refuge Place.
“When I committed my crime, I was a young, single senior pastor of a large church with no accountability. It didn’t cause me to commit my crimes but enabled me to,” he testified.
He said he’s now a family man, with a daughter currently undergoing medical issues.
If allowed to remain on probation, he said he’d never work or volunteer at a church again.
A bittersweet conclusion
In delivering his sentence Wednesday, Hagerman quoted Scripture and questioned why Robinson was ever given deferred adjudication probation.
“You were charged with the care and nurturing of all of your parishioners, especially the children,” Hagerman said. “You took that and you committed not one, but several abominable acts.”
Robinson will have to serve five years in prison before becoming parole eligible.
“The victim in this case showed unbelievable bravery 10 years ago when she told what happened to her, knowing the ultimate consequence was being shunned by her church. Now, after 10 years of watching those same people continue to support him instead of her, she has shown how strong she is by coming to court once again to stand up for what is right.,” D’Avignon said after the hearing.
The victim’s father acknowledged the sentence was bittersweet.
“Honestly, it probably would have been the fair sentencing 10 years ago,” he said. “It would have felt more just then. ... Now, knowing that he has a family and kids and a wife, and his situation with his daughter, it hurts a little bit. For them, you hate to hear that because I know they all love him.”
But, the victim — now a mother herself — quickly chimed in.
“He was given a chance, and he blew it,” she said. “He’s not some almighty being. He’s human, and he’s got to be held to the same standards as everyone else.
“We got justice today.”