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Petition to reduce prison time calls the Rev. Lyons repentant

By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 30, 1999


LARGO -- Attorneys for fallen Baptist leader Henry J. Lyons have asked a circuit judge to reduce his 51/2-year sentence on his state racketeering and grand theft convictions.

In a petition filed Thursday, Lyons' attorneys said the St. Petersburg minister is "truly repentant" and that he would not repeat the crimes for which he is now imprisoned. "If there was a lesson to be learned, he has learned it," the petition said.

Lawyer Denis de Vlaming said in an interview he will ask Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Susan Schaeffer at an Aug. 18 hearing to reduce the St. Petersburg minister's sentence to 51 months.

That equals the sentence imposed on Lyons by a federal judge in June for his guilty plea to tax evasion and fraud charges. Since the federal sentence is concurrent to his state sentence, it did not add a day to the time Lyons is to serve.

De Vlaming also said common wisdom around the courthouse when Lyons was sentenced March 31 had it that Schaeffer expected the minister to receive a far greater federal sentence than anything she imposed in state court.

Since that hasn't proved to be the case, the lawyer said, he believes Schaeffer may now wish to give Lyons a lesser sentence.

De Vlaming also noted that Lyons, 57, convicted of financial crimes, is serving hard time with serious criminals, including murderers and rapists. So Lyons, de Vlaming said in his petition, "has come to learn the true value of his freedom."

De Vlaming said Lyons spent about four weeks in a prison "boot camp," a vigorous program through which inmates are taught to immediately obey authority and follow orders.

"It's to break them down," de Vlaming said. "They do it so the inmates learn to behave."

Assistant State Attorney Bill Loughery, who led the prosecution of Lyons, declined comment on the petition.

Lyons, former president of the National Baptist Convention USA, was convicted in state court Feb. 27. Prosecutors said he used the good name of the convention to swindle millions of dollars from corporations eager to tap into the NBC's supposed 8.5-million members.

Lyons was also convicted of stealing most of the $244,000 given to him by the Anti-Defamation League to rebuild burned black churches in the South.

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