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    Youth pastor gets 135 years for sex cases

    A judge tells Randy Lee Morrow he wishes the sentence could be longer.

    By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published October 4, 2002


    LARGO -- Youth pastor Randy Lee Morrow lied all the time to the teenagers he says looked up to him as a father figure. He admits it.

    Lies about being in a biker gang. Lies about serving prison time. Lies about having terminal cancer.

    "I lied a lot more than I should have," he says.

    But Morrow says he is telling the truth when he insists he did not have sex with three teenage boys he pastored at Countryside Baptist Church in Clearwater.

    A Pinellas-Pasco jury deliberated for two hours on Thursday before deciding that was a lie, too. Jurors found Morrow, 42, guilty of nine charges involving allegations he had sex with three teens, ages 13 to 15, while he was their youth pastor.

    Circuit Judge Phil Federico immediately sentenced Morrow to 135 years in prison for charges that ranged from sexual activity with a minor to lewd and lascivious behavior and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

    "If I could give you more (time), I would," the judge said.

    Federico said Morrow's was one of the worst cases of trust betrayed that he had ever seen in 19 years as a prosecutor and a judge.

    Morrow, who had been free on bail, showed no emotion as the verdict and sentence were announced. He declined to address the court and avoided looking at the victims or their families as bailiffs led him off to jail.

    "I just want everyone to realize what a sick and twisted individual Randy Morrow is," said one of the teenage boys, who now is 17. The three teens are not named because of the nature of the charges. "I just want everyone to realize that now."

    Prosecutor Tim Hessinger told jurors that Morrow lured the three victims with cigarettes and alcohol, getting them drunk so he could take advantage of them by having sex in his RV, the church and local parks.

    Morrow, who lived in Palm Harbor with his parents, told Pinellas sheriff's detective Matt Miller the day of his arrest, "I had bull-crapped (the teens) for a year . . . I had made up this other person that wasn't even me."

    Morrow took the stand in his own defense and explained some of the lies as a result of him simply trying to make himself look cooler to the teens.

    As for the cancer lie, Morrow said he told that one because he was tired and wanted to leave the youth ministry. He said he thought telling the boys he had cancer was a way to ease the pain of him leaving to become a pastor for the homeless.

    "That's a real nice letdown," Hessinger told jurors during closing arguments.

    Morrow had been a drug addict when he was younger. He got in trouble with the law by writing bad checks. But Morrow testified that he turned his life around and found success in several lines of work, including a job driving a taxi.

    But he said he gave everything up for God and sold many of his belongings so he could devote his life to the church, eventually joining Countryside Baptist.

    Morrow said he devoted almost all his time to teens after he became youth pastor. He denied allegations by the three boys that he gave them cigarettes and alcohol.

    Morrow said that medication he took earlier in his life for asthma has left him impotent, making the boys' allegations impossible.

    But Hessinger noted that police tests found Morrow's sperm on a church couch. Morrow, who described himself as a shy man, testified that he sometimes slept naked and alone on the couch.

    Defense attorneys Larry Hoffman and Melissa Sharpsteen said the teens made up stories about Morrow because they were mad at his lies and angry he was leaving the church to begin a new ministry for the homeless.

    The teens acknowledged that they tried to extort $1,000 from Morrow, threatening to report him to police if he didn't pay. He didn't pay. But neither did he call police.

    In October 2000, one of the teens' mothers called the Sheriff's Office. A detective set up a taped telephone call between one of the youths and the pastor.

    In the call, Morrow repeatedly apologized for his behavior, telling one of the boys, "I betrayed some people I consider the most-important people of my life and I have to live with that every day."

    Later, he told a detective the allegations against him were unbelieveable.

    "This is stuff you read about in the news," Morrow said.

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