Fort Worth

Pastor given probation in 2008 for raping a teen church member now may go to prison

Tarrant County Sheriff's Office

A former Southwood Baptist Church pastor who pleaded guilty in 2008 to sexually assaulting a teen church member was back in court Monday as prosecutors seek to send him to prison for starting a new church and being around children unchaperoned.

James “Jay” Virtue Robinson IV had been sentenced to 10 years deferred adjudication probation in August 2008 after pleading guilty to sexual assault of a child under 17.

Robinson was six months away from completing his probation term when prosecutor Kim D’Avignon filed a petition in March seeking to revoke it. D’Avignon alleges Robinson repeatedly violated his probation terms, including going to sporting events without permission from his probation officer and starting a new church that gave him unchaperoned access to children.

State District Judge David Hagerman could extend Robinson’s probation term up to 10 more years or sentence him from two to 20 years in prison.

The courtroom for Monday’s hearing was filled with Robinson’s supporters. But his rape victim, who was 15 when Robinson starting grooming her, and her family were also in attendance.

Robinson, 42, testified that previous probation officers had given him permission to attend Mavericks and Rangers games with a chaperone, so he thought it was OK to do so.

“It was my impression I could go to games as long as it was with a chaperone,” he said, adding that his wife always accompanied him.

He said that he did get permission from his probation officer to work at a Weatherford church doing cleaning and light maintenance and later a similar job at Alliance Baptist Church. He said he felt going from a one-time church pastor to the bottom rung — cleaning toilets and mowing church lawns — was “appropriate penance” for his crime.

But Robinson. who is represented by defense attorneys Rhett Parham and Jeff Kearney, testified his responsibilities at Alliance Baptist Church later evolved into managing construction projects, working with the church’s finances and teaching adult Sunday school.

He and his wife also later participated in a Bible study class with other friends from Alliance Baptist Church that met at his house, among other locations.

“We had no intentions of it being a church when we started gathering,” he said.

But as the number of attendees grew, Alliance Baptist Church leadership decided to start a new church with the core group from the Bible study class. Robinson said he was part of the team tasked with starting the church and served as a administrative coordinator.

Robinson testified that he mentioned it to his probation officers when talk of the church began. When the new church, Refuge Place, decided to meet on Sunday evening at the First Christian Church at 612 Throckmorton St. in downtown Fort Worth, he said, probation officers were concerned it was too close to Sundance Square, considered a child safety zone.

As a result, Robinson testified, he had to have his attorneys seek permission from the court to allow him to be part of the services there and continue his administrative work there.

D’Avignon pointed out that Robinson had only been granted permission by the court to volunteer at the church on Sunday evenings when services were not being held.

Eduardo Murillo, Robinson’s probation officer, testified he only learned of the depth of Robinson’s role in the church and that he was going to sporting events and doing charitable work where children were around after receiving calls from two concerned people in February.

Robinson admitted that he did not inform his probation officer when his role at the church 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.’ ”

He acknowledged that failure to alert his probation officer was a “huge mistake.”

“It’s put my family at great risk,” said Robinson, now married with four children. “That’s on me. I don’t blame anybody else for that.”

Robinson testified after his employment became an issue, he was restricted from attending church services or Bible study but was allowed to keep working from home in an administrative capacity. He said he later resigned from the church altogether, believing it wise, and now works at UPS.

He said he now realizes that he should never work again at a church.

“I can’t put my family at risk anymore.” he testified.

The hearing will resume Wednesday morning.

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For 23 years, Deanna Boyd has covered crime for the Star-Telegram. She digs deep into the stories behind the tragedies and hosts Out of the Cold, a podcast about unsolved murders in North Texas. She is a University of Texas at Austin graduate and has won several journalism awards through the years.