An associate pastor who told police he kept child porn on his computer as part of research for “a possible lesson involving Cupid, love and human trafficking” has been sentenced to eight years’ probation.
James Rankin, 79, also was ordered by Judge Mollee B. Westfall to post a sign at his Hurst home that says, “A person on probation for a child sex offense lives here.”
Rankin pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography, a third degree felony, in a plea agreement with prosecutors last week. He faced a maximum of 10 years in prison. He was also fined $800.
Rankin had been associate pastor at Bellevue Baptist Church in Hurst but is no longer associated with it, said a woman who answered the phone there Wednesday morning.
“We probably had a shot in a trial,” said Wes Ball of Arlington, Rankin’s attorney. “But we elected to take the plea deal. I think it was a fair resolution”
But Ball was highly critical of the sign requirement, saying he remembers when on occasion then-Judge Sharen Wilson made it a condition of probation for sex offenders. Wilson is now the Tarrant County district attorney.
“I don’t see the sense of it,” Ball said Wednesday. “If he’s a risk he belongs in prison, but he’s not in prison. He’s a low risk. Let him go on with his life on probation.”
Prosecutors declined to comment.
As part of the plea agreement, Rankin agreed that an assessment would be conducted on him to determine the conditions of his community supervision. Some of those conditions may include electronic monitoring, curfew, psychological/sexual evaluations and no contact with children under the age of 17.
On the day he was sentenced, Rankin agreed to some standard conditions of probation. Those conditions were not available Wednesday.
Regarding the sign, Rankin must contract with a vendor selected by the court. The sign shall be no less than 16 inches high and no less than 32 inches wide. It must be constructed with weather-resistant and reflective material. All lettering must be no less than 2 1/2 inches tall. Rankin is responsible for the sign’s maintenance and replacement.
The former associate pastor was arrested in March 2017 after employees at Best Buy alerted police that they had found what they believed was child porn on a computer brought in for repair by Rankin.
Police arrived at the store to investigate and then summoned Rankin. He gave police permission to look through computer files where they observed images of nude children between the ages of 8 and 10 on an Apple iMac, according to a search warrant.
Rankin told police he kept the child porn “to remind himself of what other people like to look at,” according to the warrant.
Police found at least 50 images of children engaging in pornography, some of which appeared to be “home-made quality,” according to the warrant.
Church officials told police Rankin did not use or have access to a church computer, but brought his own laptop.