Church volunteer gets 15 years for sex abuse of boys

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A church youth volunteer who sexually abused boys in his
care “stole their innocence and purity,” a parent told
him during his plea hearing Friday in Circuit Court.

Matthew Maurice Jernigan, 25, of Trailside Drive in the
Walter Hill community, was charged last year by sheriff’s
Detective Jim Tramel with raping and fondling two boys he
met as a youth volunteer from Heartland Baptist Church on
East Jefferson Pike.

Jernigan pleaded guilty to reduced charges of three counts
of aggravated sexual battery and two counts of attempted
sexual battery. Under a plea agreement, Circuit Court Judge
David Bragg sentenced him to 15 years in prison at 100
percent. After his release, he will be on probation 15

His plea keeps the young boys from going to trial.

The boys and their parents who attended the hearing heard
Jernigan apologize.

“I’m sorry for any particular suffering I caused any
family member or victim involved,” Jernigan said.

As victims, parents of all four boys were allowed to give a
statement about how Jernigan’s crimes affected their

One of the boy’s mother spoke on behalf of the boys,
noting how the families treated Jernigan as one of their

“You stole their innocence and purity,” the mother said.

The church used to be a close family but “you have sown
discord among the brethren,” the mother said. “Christ
will have to heal the deep wounds” before she can forgive
with her heavy heart.

Her husband told Jernigan the families must move on but the
scars will take time to heal, especially since Jernigan used
his church leadership and “turned church into a place of

The family considered Jernigan a friend before he abused the

“You’re the one who has to live with this for the rest
of your life,” the father said.

The father of the second boy simply asked Jernigan why he
sexually abused his son.

Bragg explained Jernigan did not have to answer questions.

“I just want to know why,” the father said. “That’s

His wife told Jernigan she was sad for him and his sweet
family, even though his actions were wrong. Jernigan took
away from her son “the most precious thing in the world”
but he did not break him.

“My heart is just broken for the waste of your life,”
the mother told him, later adding, “We’re going to be OK
because God is good all the time. I hope you find your way
back to Him.”

Assistant District Attorney Laural Hemenway noted Jernigan
was previously charged with raping but the boys but the
charges were reduced as part of the plea.

She and defense attorney Brian Stephenson worked out the
plea and conditions, which include:

• Paying a $500 sex offender’s tax.

• Giving a DNA sample and being tested for HIV.

• Undergoing a psycho-sexual evaluation and completing the

• Staying away from the victim and families.

• Getting treatment.

• Being supervised for life.

• Registering for the sexual offenders registry.

Jernigan will report to the jail Feb. 8 to begin serving his

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child sex abuse, Matthew Jernigan
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Members Opinions:
January 11, 2010 at 8:44am
This will have an impact on these boys until the day they die. Jernigan should have gotten the same sentence - life.
January 12, 2010 at 9:16am
I agree. Couple the impact of the crime on those boys with the probability that he will do it again after his release. Life seems appropriate.
January 14, 2010 at 7:24am
Seems a lot of sex crimes get a nice plea agreement in this county.
January 28, 2010 at 4:44pm
Yeah I guess some get off easy, but there are others who spend years in jail, innocent. It's just sad wither way.
January 20, 2011 at 9:40pm
I agree anyone that is convicted with such a crime should get a LIFE sentence because that is what has been put on the child. I know because my 11 year old Grandaughter who weighed just 66 lbs. was raped for 4 years! I can't even begin to tell you in words but trust me it is something no one would want to go through.
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