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Updated: Black Collar Crime: Southern Baptist Pastor Larry Berkley Sentenced to Thirty-Two Years in Prison For Sex Crimes

larry berkley

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

In 2017, I reported Larry Berkley, formerly the pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church in Harrison, Arkansas, was convicted in Tennessee of rape, statutory rape, and sexual battery, and now he is facing similar charges in Arkansas.

Ozarks First reported:

A former Harrison pastor’s trial for sexual assault allegations is back in court.

At the Boone County Circuit Court on Friday, a now 37-year-old Larry Berkley, appeared before Judge Gordon Webb. Berkley is charged with sexual assault, sexual solicitation, furnishing alcohol to a minor, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and distributing pornography to minors.

Berkley pleaded not guilty to the charges, back in 2015.

According to the Deputy Prosecutor Chris Carter, the 2015 trial was continued as he faced similar charges in Tennessee. Court records show that in the Tennessee trial, Berkley was recently convicted of rape, statutory rape, and sexual battery.

Berkley was formerly the pastor at the Shiloh Baptist Church in Harrison. He is accused of sexually assaulting male subjects from 14-years-old to 18-years-old, as well as smoking marijuana, drinking liquor and watching pornography with them.

During the hearing, Prosecutor Carter also stated to the defense he plans on amending the charges to indicate he is a habitual felony offender.

He was extradited to the Boone County Jail recently and Judge Webb scheduled Berkley’s next court appearance for September 15th.

In January 2015, the Harrison Daily reported:

Larry Michael Berkley, the 35-year-old former pastor at Shiloh Baptist Church, was convicted in Tennessee this week of rape and sexual battery involving three children, but it wasn’t immediately clear when he would go to trial on similar charges in Boone County.

Berkley was arrested May 6, 2014, on Harrison Police charges while he was in Covington, Tennessee, where he was living at the time. He had just finished officiating a graveside funeral service when he was arrested, officials said.

Berkley is accused of allowing minors and juveniles go to his house to smoke marijuana and drink alcohol. In addition, he is accused of sexually assaulting young males, all over 14 but under 18, and allowing them to watch pornography.

One of the victims told police Berkley had taken him to the funeral home where he worked part time and showed him a dead body. The victim said Berkley had stored marijuana in a very expensive casket he didn’t think people could afford to buy.

He has pleaded not guilty to first-degree sexual assault, second-degree sexual assault, knowingly furnishing alcohol to a minor, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, sexual solicitation and loaning pornography to minors.

At Berkley’s arraignment, Covington lawyer Bryan Huffman asked Judge Gordon Webb to reduce Berkley’s bond from $100,000 to $50,000.
Huffman said Berkley’s family would post Berkley’s bond, then he would return to Tennessee. The family also would agree to make sure that Berkley made all necessary court appearances in Boone County Circuit Court.

Webb refused to reduce bond, but records show Berkley did post bond and was released from the Boone County Jail on May 23.

But in June, while he was on bond, a Lauderdale County, Tennessee, grand jury indicted Berkley in June on two counts of rape and four counts each of aggravated statutory rape, sexual battery by an authority figure and statutory rape by an authority figure.

Police said the Harrison case jump started the Tennessee case. Berkley was a pastor in Lauderdale County prior to moving to Harrison. The indictment shows there were three victims involved in allegations against Berkley in Tennessee. It identifies the victims only by initials, not gender.

One victim, 21 at the time of the indictment, was involved in one allegation against Berkley. Another victim, 15 at the time of the indictment, was involved in four allegations against Berkley. The final victim, 17 at the time of the indictment, was involved in nine allegations against Berkley.

The Associate Press reported Thursday that a Lauderdale County jury convicted Berkley of all 14 counts against him. There was no mention of prison sentencing.
Officials said last October that Berkley’s trial in Boone County would be delayed until after the Tennessee charges were resolved.

….

WREG-3 reported in 2014:

A church employee at Shiloh Baptist also reported at least $4,400 is missing from the church, money Berkley was supposed to use to make a payment on a mission trip.

Two and half years ago, Berkley was senior pastor at Victory Batist [sic] Church in Henning, Tenn.

He was asked to leave the church, but no one at Victory wanted to talk about the charges against Berkley or exactly why he was asked to leave Victory Baptist.

Veronica Powledge lives near Victory Baptist and said she actually met Berkley once while she was out for a walk.

She said the accusations are a shame.

“That’s just disgusting. I just, that hurts me so bad. I just can’t believe a pastor would do that. Man, that’s something else,” said Powledge.

Victory Baptist Church Pastor Obadiah Hedrick said in a statement that he is “saddened by the news of Berkley’s alleged activity and we are praying for him and healing for those involved.”

The Harrison Daily Times reported:

Larry Michael Berkley, the former Harrison pastor facing numerous charges regarding abuse of juveniles, has pleaded guilty to those charges and been sentenced to prison in Arkansas after his prison term is served in Tennessee.

Berkley, 38, was charged with four counts of first-degree sexual assault and seven counts of second-degree sexual abuse in 2014.

Berkley was accused of allowing minors and juveniles go to his house to smoke marijuana and drink alcohol. In addition, he is accused of sexually assaulting young males, all over 14 but under 18, and allowing them to watch pornography.

He was arrested May 6, 2014, on Harrison Police charges while he was in Covington, Tennessee, where he was living at the time. He had just finished officiating a graveside funeral service when he was arrested, officials said.

He was brought back to Harrison for arraignment, then posted $100,000 bond and returned to Tennessee on May 23 of that year.

But a Lauderdale County, Tennessee, grand jury indicted Berkley in June of that year on two counts of rape and four counts each of aggravated statutory rape, sexual battery by an authority figure and statutory rape by an authority figure.

The Associated Press reported in January 2015 that a jury convicted Berkley of all counts against him. Tennessee court records indicate Berkley’s appeal of convictions was denied in May 2016. Tennessee prison records show Berkley is eligible for parole there in September 2037.

Berkley was returned to Harrison for trial in August 2017. Trial was set for November, but a continuance was granted until earlier this month, which is when he pleaded guilty as charged.

He was sentenced to 32 years in prison on each count to run concurrently with each other and with the sentence in Tennessee. He is to be returned to Arkansas to finish serving his state time when paroled in Tennessee.

According to a sentencing report by deputy prosecutor Chris Carter, “This man has proven he is a predatory pedophile and used his position to steal money from churches, buy alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco products for young males to seduce them.

….

In 2018, Berkley pleaded guilty and was sentenced to thirty-two years in prison.

KTLO reported at the time:

A former Harrison pastor, 38-year-old Larry Michael Berkley, has been sentenced to 32 years in prison after he pled guilty earlier this month to numerous charges regarding abuse of juveniles. His time in the Arkansas Department of Correction will follow his prison term in Tennessee.

The Harrison Daily Times reports Berkley was charged with four counts of first-degree sexual assault and seven counts of second-degree sexual abuse in 2014.

Berkley was accused of allowing minors and juveniles go to his house to smoke marijuana and drink alcohol. In addition, he is accused of sexually assaulting young males, all over 14 but under 18, and allowing them to watch pornography.

He was arrested in May 2014, on charges out of Boone County while he was in Covington, Tennessee, where he was living at the time. Officials said he had just finished officiating a graveside funeral service when he was arrested.

He was brought back to Harrison for arraignment, then posted a $100,000 bond and returned to Tennessee later that month.

But a Lauderdale County, Tennessee grand jury indicted Berkley in June of 2014 on two counts of rape and four counts each of aggravated statutory rape, sexual battery by an authority figure and statutory rape by an authority figure.

The Associated Press reported in January 2015 a jury convicted Berkley of all counts against him. Tennessee court records indicate Berkley’s appeal of convictions was denied in May 2016. Tennessee prison records show Berkley is eligible for parole there in September 2037.

Berkley was returned to Harrison for trial last August. Trial was set for November, but a continuance was granted until earlier this month when he pleaded guilty as charged.

He was sentenced to 32 years in prison on each count to run concurrently with each other and with the sentence in Tennessee.

According to a sentencing report by Deputy Prosecutor Chris Carter, “This man has proven he is a predatory pedophile and used his position to steal money from churches, buy alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco products for young males to seduce them.”

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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2 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Brian Vanderlip

    I guess the best we can ever do (and we fail at it too) is to lock people up because they prove to be sick-sick and harm others. When I was a teen at a certain time, there was an adult (a woman in my case, not the man as is more usual) who encouraged teens to drink and act out around them. We were kids with so many constraints and rules that partying eventually had to mean getting wasted and doing stupid stuff that might have killed us. Nobody punishes the parents who strangle their children with belief and ritual, with shame and guilt. We reserve the punishment for guys like Berkley. What kind of upbringing did Berkley have? I’d bet some extremes, the excesses of sick religion or the excesses of its lack, let’s say. But when do we begin to understand the human reality regarding excess without sacrificing our minds and hearts to just-plain-punishment, just further harm sanctioned by Courts… Its okay to harm kids if you carry a Koran or a Bible, yes?

  2. Avatar
    Dave

    Shiloh’s Facebook page describes the church as an “amazing body of believers.” What’s really amazing is that people cling to their faith even after their faith leader is found guilty of such abhorrent crimes.

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