Ronnie Gorton will be 58 years old the first time he’s eligible for release from prison.
He sat, still emotionless, as the Judge Joe Walker handed down an effective 38-year sentence Friday morning.
“The defendant was the lead pastor in a church and used his position of authority to commit these offenses, he groomed minors for his sexual perversion,” Walker said.
The first part of the sentencing hearing took place on Nov. 8 and included testimony from two men who claim they were abused by Gorton in their teens. Friday’s proceedings included testimony from Gorton’s friends and family members who defended Gorton’s character.
In August the 41-year-old, who was the founding pastor of The Awakening Church, was convicted of two counts of exploitation of a minor, two counts of contributing to a minor, two counts of furnishing alcohol to minors, seven counts of sexual battery by an authority figure, 10 counts of statutory rape by an authority figure and the continual abuse of a child.
The case began on Jan. 31, 2018 when the victim told friends what was happening. They then turned to the police and, when he found out, Gorton threatened to commit suicide.
Gorton was on house arrest, and lived with his parents in Union City, from his March 2018 indictment until he was convicted nearly four months ago. He has been in the custody of the Tipton County Jail, segregated from the rest of the population, and will now be transferred into the custody of the Tennessee Department of Corrections. Gorton will be moved to prison when a bed is available for him.
Walker said Gorton spending nearly four decades in prison would respect the law and promote justice.
“The court considers this sentence appropriate and reasonable relative to several of these offenses,” he said, noting Gorton’s long-term incarceration would protect the public from the man he called a “child sexual pedophile” who was likely to reoffend.
Sentencing for the 24-count case gets confusing because some sentences for convictions will be served concurrent with others, then consecutive to yet more convictions. The 38-year sentence is a combination of several different sentences.
“He sentenced him to eight years at 100 percent and 30 years at 30 percent,” said defense attorney Blake Ballin. “What all of that is means is it will be 17 years before he is eligible for parole.”
There are still two more trials, set for April and May, however Ballin is anticipating Gorton taking plea deals in January 2020. Gorton rejected a plea deal prior to the August trial.
“He now, essentially, has to decide if he wants to go to trial on those or does he want to negotiate an agreement that covers all three of these cases. So, we’re going to come back early next year and, between now and then, we’re going to make attempts to negotiate his other two cases in sort of a packaged deal that covers all of his matters.”
Those cases cover the July 2018 indictments for rape of a child, 19 counts of statutory rape by an authority figure, 19 counts of sexual battery by an authority figure and five counts of violating the Child Protection Act, which is continuous sexual abuse of a child.