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Youth pastor gets sentenced for sexual conduct with a child

LISBON — A former Wellsville area youth pastor was sentenced to 18 months in prison for unlawful sexual conduct with a minor for an inappropriate two-year sexual relationship he began with one of the teenagers in the program

Brandon Russell, 28, Garner Avenue, East Liverpool, had pleaded guilty in October to the charge, which was a lesser charge to the sexual battery he had been initially charged.

Assistant County Prosecutor Tammie Riley Jones asked for the maximum 18-month sentence, explaining to Judge Megan Bickerton the levels of trust that were broken. She noted not only did the sexual relationship continue for an extended period, but Russell also offered the boy “gifts” of money to compel him to continue.

Now an adult, but between the ages of 14 and 16 when the abuse occurred, the boy spoke prior to sentencing about how he trusted Russell and looked up to him as a mentor. Then he said he came to realize he had been betrayed and manipulated and what happened has made him distrustful in subsequent relationships.

“What you chose to do to me as a kid has had profound impacts on my life,” he said,, continuing that he is going to have to carry the memories of what happened for the rest of his life and has nightmares about it. He hopes Russell considers the effect this has had on him if he ever considers doing this to another young person.

“I hope that you turn to God for forgiveness,” the young man said.

Defense attorney Joe Ludovici suggested Bickerton consider Russell an 18- to 20-year-old, the ages he was when the abuse occurred. Ludovici went on to suggest Russell has grown as a person and was going through a rough time when this happened.

During the hearing it was noted not only had Russell himself suffered abuse as a child, but his mother had committed suicide around that same time. Additionally, Ludovici suggested Russell was struggling about what it meant to be gay and living in Wellsville.

Russell also gave a tearful statement to Bickerton prior to sentencing. He said he is truly sorry for what he did and the mistakes that he made, adding he asked her to consider including counseling for him. He asked the young man in the courtroom to forgive him.

“The person I was then I don’t even recognize,” Russell said. “I allowed myself to do things and cross lines that I will forever regret in the struggle with grief.”

“I am forever sorry for the hurt I have caused you, the trust that was broken and for the struggle I have imposed in your life,” Russell said. “I will never be able to forgive myself for hurting people who did so much for me.”

Bickerton commented on the “brave” statement of the young man, who expressed well the fact that victims of child sex offense cases often receive a life sentence. She also pointed out Russell continued the relationship, continued giving gifts to the teen even after the boy’s father had become concerned something was inappropriate and asked him to have no further contact with his son.

Besides the 18-month prison sentence, Russell will be required to register as a Tier II sexual offender, which requires to register his address every 180 days for 25 years.

djohnson@mojonews.com

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