published Friday, December 9th, 2011

Jury deliberates verdict in trial of pastor’s son

A Criminal Court jury today continues to deliberate a verdict in the aggravated statutory rape trial of the 28-year-old son of a local pastor.

Assistant District Attorney Bret Alexander and defense attorneys Bill Speek and Gerald Webb finished their closing arguments at 3:30 p.m. Thursday. The jury deliberated until 6 p.m. and decided to reconvene this morning.

Ronnie Powe Jr. could be sentenced to two to four years in state prison if convicted of the charge that he masturbated and briefly performed oral sex on a 15-year-old boy on Feb. 15.

Powe is the son of Ronnie Powe Sr., the pastor of Chattanooga’s United Tabernacle Church of God in Christ.

Since the beginning of the trial Tuesday, Speek and Webb have focused on one word in the indictment — knowingly.

Alexander laid out evidence that the teen was underage and that sexual penetration occurred, which both sides admit. But to convict Powe, the prosecutor had to prove to the jury that Powe knew the teen was under 18.

“He knew, he knew this was a kid,” Alexander told the jury during closing arguments.

The Times Free Press does not identify by name alleged victims of sex crimes.

Speek challenged Alexander’s assertion throughout proceedings showing that the teen had created a profile on an adult black gay website. His profile, online until the first day of the trial, showed his age as 18, 19 and 21 at different times.

“He has lied about everything,” Speek told the jury. “Was there one bit of evidence in this case other than from the lying mouth of [the teen], that Ronnie Powe knew he was under 18?”

The teen testified on Wednesday afternoon and much of Thursday morning.

Under Speek’s cross-examination, the teen admitted he lied on the profile and did not tell Powe he was underage until they met in person Feb. 15.

The teen told police and testified that when Powe picked him up near his home on Feb. 15, Powe asked him if he really was 18 and he first told him yes, then 17, then 16.

But Powe told police when he was arrested that the teen had told him multiple times he was 18.

The teen also admitted he’d lied when he previously accused his 25-year-old brother of molesting him.

Speek accused the teen of playing games with people’s lives. The teen agreed that the biggest mistake Powe made was believing him.

But Alexander pointed to parts of Powe’s statements to police, which indicated he suspected the teen was underage and still engaged in the sex act.

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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