A former Medford youth pastor faces 10 to 15 years in prison after admitting he secretly recorded a juvenile in a bathroom.
In a U.S. District courtroom in Medford filled with youths, parents and church leaders he betrayed, Donald Courtney Biggs, 39, pleaded guilty Friday to a single felony count of transporting with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity.
The guilty plea spares Biggs, formerly a youth pastor at Mtn. Church in downtown Medford, and dozens of victims Biggs allegedly recorded in secret, from a weeks-long trial that was set to start later this month.
In his green Jackson County Jail uniform, Biggs made no statements and avoided eye contact with the audience. No victims made statements during the hearing, but U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken told victims she will allot as much time as needed to accommodate them at a sentencing hearing currently set for June.
Biggs has remained lodged in the jail since January 2015 following an investigation of inappropriate texting with minor girls in the church, according to earlier news reports.
The reports of inappropriate texting with minor girls led investigators to find recordings of adult and juvenile women in various stages of undress, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Amy Potter, who is prosecuting the case.
The single charge specifies that Biggs recorded a juvenile exiting the shower during a March 2013 church trip to Huntington Beach, California, Potter said. As part of the negotiated agreement, nine other transportation and child pornography charges were dropped.
Aiken presided from Eugene via video conference at the hearing, which was hastily arranged Friday morning for later in the day so that Potter and Biggs' public defender, Terry Kolkey, wouldn't needlessly spend the weekend preparing for a Feb. 26 trial.
Outside the courthouse, Mtn. Church lead pastor and founder Jim Wright expressed a mix of anger, faith in the justice system and the need for forgiving hearts as he supported victims and parents. At his services last weekend, after recent news updates brought feelings about the case back to the surface, he cautioned his congregation not to let healthy anger become bitterness.
"I've been walking these families through this for three years," Wright said, adding later that children in his congregation, many now young adults, "have had to walk through incredibly deep valleys."
Wright also expressed frustration, which he said was mostly for the families, that Biggs dragged out his case since early 2015. He said he believes Biggs pleaded "under the notion of a deal, not a contrite heart."
Though Wright put his congregation's feelings of betrayal far ahead of his own, Wright said Biggs had been someone he trusted. Biggs had been Mtn. church staff for roughly six years, but Wright had known Biggs for close to two decades. Wright started Mtn. Church 11 years ago.
"It's hard, I'm ticked," Wright said.
Potter said that federal prosecutors will outline the entirety of their case against the former youth pastor at the sentencing hearing, currently slated for June 13, though Potter said it may be rescheduled to accommodate victims' school schedules.
Prosecutors are seeking a prison sentence of 15 years, eight months, while Biggs' attorney intends to seek the mandatory-minimum 10-year sentence.
— Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.