A Tarrant County jury deliberated less than four hours Wednesday before convicting a former Virginia megachurch pastor of sexually assaulting two sisters in Fort Worth and Grapevine almost 20 years ago.
Geronimo Aguilar, 45, who had been free on bond, was immediately taken into custody. He elected to have state District Judge Louis Sturns set his punishment. Sturns called for a pre-sentencing report to be filed with him in 80 to 90 days.
After the verdict was read, some jurors hugged the two sisters who accused Aguilar of aggravated sexual assault. One sister was 13 and the other 11 when the assaults began in 1996, according to their testimony last week.
“One of the jurors asked me if I thought it would be a not guilty verdict,” the older sister said. “I said that I thought there was a chance, and she said, ‘Oh, no.’”
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Aguilar’s attorney Thomas Pavlinic said he will appeal the conviction.
Aguilar was convicted on all seven counts of the indictment. Two counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child carry a maximum sentence of life in prison. Three counts of sexual assault of a child under 17 and two counts of indecency with a child, each second-degree felonies, carry maximum sentences of 20 years.
Prosecutor Eric Nickols said he will ask Sturns for a sentence that guarantees Aguilar never leaves prison, perhaps life plus 20 years. Aguilar destroyed lives and ran what Nickols described as a “tax-free harem.”
“This is something that a lot of people thought would never happen,” Nickols said. “A lot of people who came forward didn’t really believe that this day could occur, and it was vindication.”
In closing arguments Wednesday morning, prosecutors said Aguilar, a former minister in Fort Worth and Richmond, Va., pursued a pattern of sexually abusing minors that started 19 years ago.
“He started off by rubbing up against her, by touching her, and then if he sensed that everything wasn’t going to go right, he’d step back and ask, ‘Is everything all right?’ He would just check to make sure that he wouldn’t get arrested,” Tarrant County prosecutor Sheila Wynn said.
The sisters testified last week. The older one, who used the pseudonym April Moore, said Aguilar sexually assaulted her for two years starting in 1996 when he was 26. At the time, Aguilar lived with the sisters’ family in Fort Worth and Grapevine and was affiliated with New Beginnings International Church in Fort Worth.
Pavlinic told jurors that after nearly two decades, the evidence that Aguilar might have used to defend himself no longer exists and people who might have testified in his behalf are no longer alive.
Aguilar’s late grandfather and his grandmother could have testified for the defense, Pavlinic said. Chad Everett White, who testified that he was Moore’s boyfriend in 1997, said he was constantly at her Grapevine residence yet did not know that Aguilar lived there, Pavlinic said.
Much time and testimony focused on Aguilar’s extramarital affairs, which he admitted to and took responsibility for, Pavlinic said. But those affairs have nothing to do with whether Aguilar sexually assaulted minors almost two decades ago, Pavlinic said.
“People are trying to recall things that happened almost 20 years ago,” Pavlinic said. “Presidents engage in extramarital affairs, but that does not make them child molesters. You may not like his moral stance and you may not like what he did, but that’s no indication of his guilt.”
Nickols said the sisters’ parents failed their daughters. The father even wrote a musical tribute for Aguilar after his daughters were abused, Nickols said.
The mother is in the Tarrant County Jail awaiting trial on a charge of sexual assault of a child under 17. The Star-Telegram is not naming the mother because the newspaper typically does not identify sexual assault victims and printing her name could identify her daughters. The older sister said her mother, 56, is blind, has lupus and is a longtime drug addict.
Nickols said Aguilar is a consummate liar.
“He lied to his congregation, he lied to the court, and he lied to you,” Nickols told the jury. “He can turn on the tears when he wants to.”
When Aguilar is attacked, he demonizes and then attacks his attackers, Nickols said. When he is caught, Aguilar cries, asks for mercy and begs his accusers not to tell anyone, Nickols said.
Aguilar left North Texas in 2001 and moved to Richmond, Va., where he founded the Richmond Outreach Center. The church began in a warehouse with 19 members and grew to have up to 10,000 in attendance each week. Aguilar was fired as senior pastor there in 2013.
Mitch Mitchell, 817-390-7752