Ex-pastor sentenced in sexual abuse case
The former assistant pastor at a Vinton church maintained his innocence to the end.
By Laurence Hammack
A former assistant pastor of a Vinton church was sentenced Tuesday to 18 months in prison for sexually abusing a 12-year-old girl.
Daniel Silverman, who had earlier pleaded no contest, maintained his innocence to the end — saying he would just as soon be branded a sex offender and go to prison than subject the girl to the emotional trauma of having to testify against him and face cross-examination.
“I would rather plead no contest than put her through that,” Silverman told Roanoke County Circuit Court Judge James Swanson.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Randy Leach disputed the innocence claim, noting that Silverman confessed to a police officer and a social services worker after the offense last summer.
Silverman, 43, was the assistant pastor of Heritage Baptist Church in Vinton at the time. In an unrelated case, a former deacon of the church was recently convicted of child molestation. Dean Harold Stone was sentenced last week to 48 years in prison for 12 felony sex crimes involving three young girls.
Neither of the cases occurred at Heritage Baptist or were directly connected to the church.
After first admitting the abuse, Silverman has said the girl fabricated the allegations against him out of anger. A psychological evaluation found he is in denial.
Midway through Silverman’s sentencing hearing, Swanson began to voice concerns about his repeated claims of innocence.
“It is not the business of this court to convict innocent people,” Swanson said. “And if there is an issue to your innocence, I’m very uncomfortable with this process.”
The judge recessed court to allow Silverman to discuss his plea of no contest with his attorney, Luke Jennings. After the break, Silverman said he wanted to go through with his plea.
With Silverman choosing not to dispute the charge, his guilt was established, Swanson said.
The judge sentenced Silverman to seven years in prison, suspended after he serves 18 months, and ordered him to register with the state as a sex offender and spend five years on probation after his release.
Jennings had asked for leniency, arguing that his client’s acts were not as egregious as those usually associated with a charge of aggravated sexual battery. “We’re talking about one touch to the breast that lasted for just a moment … with no pattern of abuse,” Jennings said.
Because the girl was younger than 13 at the time, the charge against Silverman was a felony.
Silverman, a freelance graphic artist, said he decided to leave the church before his arrest, having reached a point in his life where he began to question his faith.
The Rev. Bob Barton, the pastor at Heritage Baptist, declined to comment Tuesday, saying the news media had unfairly linked the personal failings of two members to the entire church.
“They have literally dragged our church’s name through the mud,” Barton said, “when we had nothing to do with any of this.”