Ballenger: I'm innocent. First Baptist Church deacon to be

1993-06-26T00:00:00Z Ballenger: I'm innocent. First Baptist Church deacon to beMARK KIESLING nwitimes.com
June 26, 1993 12:00 am  • 

CROWN POINT - First Baptist Church deacon A.V. Ballenger maintained his

innocence of child molesting charges Friday even as the father of the alleged

7-year-old victim testified Ballenger had shattered his life.

At the conclusion of the second day of testimony, Lake Criminal Court Judge

Richard Conroy said he will sentence Ballenger July 2.

Ballenger, 57, of Hammond, was convicted March 26 of molesting the girl in

her Sunday School class at the Hammond church, but said Friday the prosecution

"is a conspiracy against the church. There were 50 children and 10 adults in

that class. Do you think I am an idiot?"

"Why me? God only knows," Ballenger said. "Probably God picked me to do it,

to stand up for this, for the church. Maybe he felt I was the only man strong

enough, although I can think of others."

Speaking after the conclusion of two days of testimony at his sentencing

hearing, Ballenger discounted three young women who testified Thursday that he

also had fondled them years ago and again emphasized his innocence.

"They were looking for attention and they got it," Ballenger said. "They

testified for sympathy and for attention. And they may be getting some of the

money - there's a million-dollar lawsuit against me."

The parents of the 7-year-old Ballenger was convicted of fondling have filed

against the deacon and the church a civil action asking for monetary damages,

but the three who testified Thursday said they were neither party to the suit

nor seeking money.

A 17-year-old niece of Ballenger's from Alabama was one of those who

testified Thursday, and the deacon said she is carrying a family grudge against

him because of the divorce of her parents.

Ballenger said he is hopeful he will receive probation, but added, "If I get

it, good. If I go to jail, I'll go to jail."

The father of the victim said Friday he hopes Ballenger gets more than

probation. "I don't think he should get a slap on the wrist, but I'll leave

that up to the judge," he said. "It's sad this happened, but he made his bed

and he's going to have to lie on it."

The father said the molestation of his daughter rocked his faith.

"I can't sum it all up; it's hurt my family more than I can say," said the

father of nine who lives in Gary's Black Oak neighborhood. "Is God going to

punish me for this? I was taught by Jack Hyles that you don't go against God's

man. But I knew when I saw those girls testify yesterday I had done the right

thing."

The Rev. Jack Hyles, pastor of First Baptist, also testified Friday on

Ballenger's behalf, saying he did not know if the deacon still works with young

people on the church's bus ministry, but that he "would be for it."

The victim's father said he had been in prison 26 years ago, and when

released he began traveling with an evangelist across the country, giving his

testimony about how he had been saved.

"I was beginning to get my life together. I knew, and I still know, that's

what I want to do," he said. "But thanks to Mr. Ballenger, I don't trust

another church, I don't trust another preacher.

"I like Jack Hyles, but thanks to Mr. Ballenger, Jack Hyles had to tell a

lie right to my face. I feel sorry for (Ballenger's) family, I don't have

anything against them. But I get cold stares from people from the church like

I'm the guilty one.

"It hurts me to see these people I sat with in the pews, who used to say

`hi' to me and my wife. Now, not one will even speak to us now. Leaving that

church was like running away from home: It was a bad feeling, an empty feeling."

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