CAMP VERDE -- Testimony of a former pastor accused of multiple counts of child molestation and assault continued well into Tuesday.
Thomas Chantry, 47, faces felony charges involving five counts of child molestation and three aggravated assault charges. He is accused of committing these offenses more than 20 years ago while he worked as a pastor at Miller Valley Baptist Church in Prescott.
Chantry began testifying in his defense Friday and finished Tuesday. He said he is “absolutely not guilty” on all counts.
Chantry left Prescott 10 years ago and became a pastor in Wisconsin. He was arrested in 2016 when accusations of molestation and abuse from more than 20 years ago began to surface. Alleged victims and their families first reported incidents of abuse to the church but no reports were made to the police until 2015.
Chantry was extradited back to Arizona and his trial has since been rescheduled and canceled multiple times.
Accusations by alleged victims included incidents where Chantry disciplined children of the families in his congregation so severely, he left bruises and marks. Some of the abuse later turned into molestation, according to witness testimony.
Chantry’s attorney, John Sears, asked for a mistrial Tuesday, citing verbal and nonverbal prosecutorial misconduct.
Last week, Judge Bradley Astrowsky threatened to report prosecuting attorney Susan Eazer to the Arizona State Bar after she “invoked” the religion of a witness during her cross-examination.
“You crossed the line,” Astrowsky said. “We will not invoke religion and connect it under such veracity.”
But Astrowsky still denied the motion for a mistrial saying that most of the misconduct occurred while the jury was not present. He also decided not to report Eazer to the bar but welcomed Sears to do so.
Fathers of two of the victims were both called to rebut some of Chantry’s testimony.
In his testimony, Chantry claimed the parents of one of the alleged victims asked him to tutor their son. He also said one of the fathers asked him to spank his son during tutoring sessions.
The father said this was not true and that Chantry approached him. He also said he never gave Chantry express permission to spank his son during tutoring sessions, although he did not forbid it either.
Before Chantry returned to the witness stand, Eazer tried introducing new evidence to the court concerning a 2004 Illinois police report detailing an incident where Chantry allegedly spanked a child so hard, he left bruises. Astrowsky did not allow the evidence into court as it was late into the trial.
Astrowsky also warned both counsels to not mention the Association of Reformed Baptist Churches of America’s own investigation into Chantry’s misconduct.
“That’s not what this trial is about,” the judge said.
Closing arguments are expected to start Wednesday, 9 a.m., in Division 7 of the Yavapai County Superior Court in Camp Verde.
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