NEW YORK — A former youth minister who admitted he sexually abused five girls who attended his historic church but then tried to take back his guilty plea was sentenced Tuesday to 22 years in prison.
Jeremy Fulton "used his position of authority and respect as a member of the clergy to win the trust of parents and gain access to children for the purpose of sexually abusing these girls," who were 10 to 16 when molested, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said in a statement.
Fulton, 29, was the associate director of after-school and summer camp programs at Mariners' Temple Baptist Church, which traces its history to 1795. He abused some of the children at the downtown Manhattan church, prosecutors said.
One girl's mother told Fulton at his sentencing that she had treated him "like a brother."
"I trusted my most prized possession in your hands, my daughter, and you stole her innocence," said the woman, whose name is being withheld by The Associated Press to protect the identity of her daughter.
Fulton, who shook his head and whispered animatedly to his lawyer during the court session, ultimately declined to speak publicly.
In April, Fulton pleaded guilty to rape. He later said that he'd admitted things he didn't do because he got bad legal advice. Some of the girls had told other people the allegations were false, he said.
Manhattan state Supreme Court Justice Charles Solomon said the statements Fulton claimed the girls had made amounted to hearsay, his legal representation was sound and he had been warned that he wouldn't be able to withdraw his guilty plea.
"Everything points to the conclusion that, with the advice and assistance of competent counsel, (Fulton) made a reasoned decision to plead guilty and freely admitted his guilt under oath," the judge wrote in a decision issued Tuesday, rejecting Fulton's bid to rescind his plea.
Fulton plans to appeal, said his current lawyer, Robert Georges. Fulton's former lawyer and Mariners' Temple Baptist didn't immediately return calls seeking comment Tuesday.
The church, originally called the Oliver Street Meeting House, was established by philanthropist Henry Rutgers, the namesake of New Jersey's flagship state university, according to the church's website.