(WASHINGTON) - Many questions remain about the charges and subsequent guilty plea of Jeff K. Jones, the pastor and founder of Church on the Way, for an alleged relationship with a teenaged parishioner.
Andrea McCann and Nate Smith of the Washington Times-Herald report, Jones appeared in Daviess Superior Court the same day charges were filed against him in the Daviess County Clerk's Office for two counts of child solicitation, Class D felonies. There is no record of a warrant being issued or of Jones being arrested and processed at the Daviess County Security Center.
According to Sheriff Jerry Harbstreit, law enforcement officers fill out a probable cause affidavit explaining why they believe an individual has committed a crime. That affidavit is then submitted to the prosecutor's office, where it's evaluated and a determination is made on whether or not charges should be filed.
"If (the prosecutor) decides to file charges, he can issue a summons to appear in court on a certain date, and the person is never arrested and booked," Harbstreit said. "Or, he can issue a warrant and the person can turn himself (or herself) in or the warrant is served. Either way the warrant is handled, the person is arrested and booked. The prosecutor decides whether to issue the summons or warrant."
Prosecutor Dan Murrie said he cannot comment on open cases his office is prosecuting. He said he would discuss the case after the sentencing on Oct. 17.
"I have an ethical rule," Murrie said. "I cannot confirm, deny, or say anything at all if anything comes from it."
According to Indiana Code 35-33-4-1, "When an indictment or information is filed against a person charging him with a misdemeanor, the court may, in lieu of issuing an arrest warrant under IC 35-33-2, issue a summons." This leads to the question: Why was Jones issued a summons for two Class D felonies?
Pike County Prosecutor Darrin McDonald explained, in general terms, a summons is occasionally issued in felony cases, depending upon the situation. He said it's a very complex, fact-sensitive equation that looks at the person's criminal history and even health concerns leading to expenses the county may not want to incur.
Donia F.M. Farr, Jones' attorney, said while it is not unusual for those accused of crimes to be summoned instead of arrested, she said it is rare to have a client plead guilty the same time he or she is being charged.
At his initial hearing, Jones signed a plea agreement, which also was signed by Murrie and Farr. In the agreement, Jones is to plead guilty to two counts of child solicitation. If Judge Sobecki accepts the plea agreement, Jones would receive three years of probation for each count, to be served consecutively - six in total.
As a condition of the probation, Jones would spend 180 days in the work release program at the Daviess County Security Center, followed by two years of home detention. He is not allowed to have contact with the victim or the victim's family. He also must attend sex offender counseling and register as a sex offender.
Following successful completion of the sentence, Jones may petition the court for the sentence to be lowered to a Class A misdemeanor.
According to the probable cause affidavit and a statement from Church on the Way and Cornerstone Christian School, Jones stepped down as pastor on April 29. The affidavit said Jones told the church "he has sinned, but he did not go into the full details of the situation."
The statement, released Tuesday, said three leadership teams were formed after Jones stepped down. One to lead the church; another to lead Cornerstone; and a third team to lead Hope House, a food and clothing ministry the church operates.
Jen Stoll-Hembree, principal of Cornerstone, said she is part of the leadership team at the school. Cornerstone was created by Church on the Way and was listed as "a vision of Pastor Jeff Jones to see Church on the Way actively involved in Christian education" on the church's website this week.
Stoll-Hembree said Jones never taught at the school and he did not have much to say in the administration of the school. Since his resignation on April 29, he has not been at the school, now located at the old St. Mary's school building on Main Street.
But while Jones resigned, he is still listed as a church leader in several instances.
The church's website, churchontheway.us, continues to list Jones as the senior pastor. A sign in front of the church at 700 W. VanTrees St. also lists Jones as the pastor.
The church, as part of its outreach, records sermons by Jones and others and makes them available on its website.
Before Jones' resignation on April 29, many of the sermons in the archives are by him, speaking on various topics. After the resignation, various church leaders and guest ministers took turns speaking.
On Sept. 2, three days before he would be charged and plead guilty, Jones spoke before his congregation. In the sermon, titled "Enablement Through Grace," Jones did not tell them he was facing criminal charges, but did make references to his legal troubles. The online file for the sermon lists him as senior pastor.
"I'm standing here in the middle of a storm in my life myself, and I'm standing here making a declaration that Jesus has made a way for me, somehow, some way and I've got to believe in that," Jones said in the sermon.
"I wish I was through this thing, but I'm not. But you know what? I'm going to keep praising him in the midst of ..."
According to the probable cause affidavit, Jones said he hopes to step back into the pastor position someday.
Stoll-Hembree said the victim and the victim's family have left the church. Other families have also left following the revelations of Jones' crime. But some have forgiven Jones.
Have a question or comment about a news story? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org