percy

Benji Dale Persinger pleaded guilty to a charge of sexual battery by an authority figure Monday in Cumberland County Criminal Court. He received the maximum two-year prison sentence allowed.

The senior pastor of the Bridge of Hope Church in Crossville pleaded guilty Monday to sexual battery by an authority figure and received the maximum two-year prison sentence allowed by law for the class A felony.

Benji Dale Persinger, 28, 438 S. Stone Rd., who is serving a four-month split sentence out of Fentress County on a similar charge, pleaded guilty to the single charge and now may be transferred to the Tennessee Department of Corrections to finish serving his jail time.

In both counties, victims in the case were teenage girls who were members of his church.

In Cumberland County Persinger was charged with three counts of sexual battery by an authority figure and one count of sexual battery. Late last fall Persinger pleaded guilty to one count of sexual battery by an authority figure, a class A felony, and one count of sexual battery in Fentress County.

In a sentencing hearing in Fentress County in January, Cumberland County Sheriff's Investigator John Haynes testified that authorities here first became aware of the charges when parents of three girls came to authorities to complain about inappropriate contact between their daughters and the preacher.

As a result of the local investigation, the District Attorney's Office in Fentress County was contacted and last May Persinger was indicted on charges of rape, statutory rape and two counts of sexual battery by an authority figure. He pleaded guilty to one count of sexual battery by an authority figure.

Fentress County Criminal Court Judge Shayne Sexton sentenced Persinger to four months in the county jail followed by six years probation.

Persinger must pay court costs and must perform one day a month of community service. He is to register on the Tennessee sex offender registry and cannot be around children outside the immediate family of a step-son and daughter.

Monday in Crossville Persinger was scheduled to have a hearing during which he was expected to ask for a sentence similar to what he received in Fentress County. Through one of his attorneys, Kevin Bryant of Crossville, discussions with Assistant Attorney General Gary McKenzie were held and a decision was reached to not contest the two-year sentence.

In the cases in both counties, Persinger signed confessions admitting to the charges against him.

In other cases on the docket Monday, the following took place.

•Douglas Allen Trout, violation of the sex offender registry act, trial that was set for Wednesday was postponed and a hearing set for Friday on motions relating to the trial. Incest, continued until Friday.

•Amy Teleah Vaughn, aggravated sexual battery, sentencing hearing set for May 18 at 1 p.m.

•Harold Ray Cassidy Jr., three counts of rape of a child and incest, continued until July 10 for motions; set for trial July 30.

•Sharon Kay Cassidy, failure to report child sexual abuse, continued until July 10.

•Jack A. Cresap, aggravated sexual battery, continued until July 10 for motions; set for trial July 31.

•Jeffrey Eugene Morgan, two counts of violation of the sex offender registry law and theft of merchandise, Public Defender's Office appointed to represent the defendant; continued until July 10.

•Mark D. Sanders, violation of the sex offender registry law, Public Defender's Office appointed to represent the defendant; continued until July 10.

•Jeremy S. Cunningham, rape of a child, statutory rape and incest, continued until May 18 at which time defendant is to return to court with an attorney.

•Matthew A. Marshall, two counts of violation of the sex registry law, continued until May 18.

•Ricky E. Scheller, rape of a child and aggravated sexual battery, continued until May 18.

•Donald Sandstedt, rape, motion to reduce bond denied; continued until May 11.

•Jerry Ingram, convicted of attempted aggravated sexual battery, motion to reduce sentence granted; to be released into house arrest of the community corrections program once he meets requirements of the state's sexual offender registration law.