Crime

Southern Baptist leader accused of teen’s sexual assault pleads guilty to misdemeanor

A former Southern Baptist leader arrested last summer on accusations that he’d sexually assaulted an Arlington teen more than two decades earlier pleaded guilty Tuesday morning to misdemeanor assault.

Mark Edwin Aderholt, a Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary graduate, had been initially charged with sexual assault of a child under 17, a second-degree felony.

As part of a plea deal reached with prosecutors and approved by the victim in the case, Aderholt pleaded guilty to assault bodily injury, a Class A misdemeanor, in exchange for 24 months deferred adjudication probation, a $4,000 fine and 30 days in jail.

He will begin serving his jail time Tuesday at 9 p.m., according to Samantha Jordan, a spokeswoman with the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office.

He will not have to register as a sex offender, Jordan confirmed.

In a statement issued Tuesday afternoon, Aderholt’s defense attorney, Justin Sparks, said his client has “maintained his innocence from day one” and looked forward to proving it through a jury trial.

“The DA’s office has done everything they can to pursue justice in this case and after receiving all of the evidence they have decided justice is abandoning the original charge and proceeding on a misdemeanor simple assault,” Sparks wrote in an email to the Star-Telegram. “ After a probationary term it ends with a dismissal. Mark agreed to this result because the original allegations were abandoned and for closure.”

The victim, Anne Marie Miller, previously shared her story with the Star-Telegram.

She was 16 when the alleged sexual abuse started. She’d met Aderholt, who was attending Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary at the time, while trying to find someone online to help her start a student See You at the Pole group.

Following Tuesday’s plea hearing, Miller gave a passionate victim impact statement in court, Jordan said.

“She said in her allocution what she really wanted was to hear him say that he was guilty, and she achieved that today,” Jordan said.

Jordan said Miller also told Aderholt “that she had forgiven him and was moving forward with her life.”

Other than pleading guilty in the hearing, Aderholt made no other statements, Jordan said.

“He was very flushed but he didn’t show any emotion at any time,” she said.

Miller later shared her victim impact statement on her website. She also expressed dismay on her website that Aderholt would still maintain his innocence through his attorney and alleged that she is not the only woman taken sexually advantage of by Aderholt.

Aderholt had served as the associate executive director and chief strategist for the South Carolina Baptist Convention for a year and a half until he resigned on June 19, 2018. At that time, no explanation for the married father’s resignation was given.

He was arrested on July 3, 2018, in South Carolina on a warrant issued in the Tarrant County case.

Aderholt had formerly served as the missionary to Eastern Europe for the International Mission Board, an organization affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. He’s cited as having also served in Bulgaria and Slovakia, among others.

In April, the International Mission Board said it had hired a third-party group to conduct an investigation into its handling of past allegations of sexual abuse or sexual harassment. One of the reviews was of Aderholt, who served as a career missionary in Europe from approximately 2000 to 2007.

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