He was a mentor, a trusted youth leader, but on Wednesday a 24-year-old woman took the stand in Douglas County District Court, describing an inappropriate sexual relationship she said the man had with her, beginning when she was 15 years old.
"I think we both understood it was unspoken, that we couldn't tell anyone," the woman testified.
The woman's testimony came during the first day of trial for a former youth director of a Lawrence church.
The man, who is now 38, faces one charge of aggravated indecent liberties with a child, in connection with a three-year sexual relationship with a former member of his youth group.
"I was just head over heels in love with him. It was my first kiss. I was very attracted to him. I trusted him and respected him entirely," the woman testified.
The sexual abuse is reported to have started in 1999. The victim said their relationship began even earlier and included inappropriate sexual contact at a youth retreat after other members of the group had gone to sleep.
The woman waited nearly nine years to report the crime to police.
"I knew there would be really harsh consequences," she said.
She testified she decided to come forward after learning the defendant, who had moved to California to attend seminary, was about to be ordained as a Lutheran pastor and accept a job in Manhattan, Kan.
"I, more than anything, wanted to keep other people safe from him," she said. "I was afraid he was going to have another pool of people to pick from."
But Defense Attorney John Kerns told jurors during opening statements that they'll have to decide whether a crime was committed. Kerns admitted his client had a sexual relationship with the woman but argued it occurred after she had reached the legal age to give consent.
"Call him a jerk, call him immature, call him whatever four-letter word you want, but you can't call him a criminal," Kerns said. "You can't label him a criminal because no crime has occurred."
Kerns told jurors the defendant and his wife are both expected to testify during the trial.
The Journal-World generally does not publish the names of sex crime suspects unless they are convicted.
Testimony in the case is scheduled to resume today.