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Former Hammond Baptist pastor wants sentence overturned
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Former Hammond Baptist pastor wants sentence overturned

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HAMMOND | An attorney for a former pastor of First Baptist Church of Hammond filed a motion Monday asking a federal judge to overturn his client's 12-year prison sentence for sex with a teenage parishioner.

Jack Schaap, 56, was sentenced in March 2013 during a hearing in U.S. District Court in Hammond. He pleaded guilty in September 2012 to having the then-17-year-old girl transported to Illinois and Michigan for sexual encounters.

In a motion to vacate, correct or set aside Schaap's sentence, Florida lawyer Charles Murray says Schaap's defense attorneys provided ineffective counsel.

Schaap laid out a similar argument in a March letter to U.S. District Judge Rudy Lozano. At the time, Schaap was acting as his own attorney and requested more time to hire an attorney to help him seek post-conviction relief.

Schaap was represented by Merrillville attorneys Paul Stracci and Alison Benjamin, of Thiros and Stracci. Stracci did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

According to the motion, Schaap's defense attorneys falsely represented to him that he would receive a sentence of between 18 months and 10 years.

Lozano sentenced Schaap above the 10 years recommended by prosecutors and agreed upon by the former pastor's attorneys.

At the hearing, Lozano said he thought the sentence was appropriate. He referenced a six-hour staff meeting the pastor called after his conduct with the girl came into question where he denied any wrongdoing and talked about loyalty. Lozano also referenced a staff member, who was fired after bringing evidence of Schaap's relationship with the girl to light.

Schaap also claims his attorneys failed to introduce mitigating factors at sentencing such as the teen's "extensive sexual experience" and "sexually aggressive" behavior toward Schaap.

The motion says Schaap was counseling the girl, who had been expelled from Hammond Baptist Schools after being caught having sex with a male student. Legal papers filed by prosecutors indicate Schaap was asked to counsel the girl because she was having issues coping with a past relationship.

At his sentencing, Schaap addressed the girl and her family. He told them he loved being their pastor for 12 years, but acknowledged his misconduct. Schaap asked for the family's forgiveness — not because he deserved it, but because he worried bitterness would cause more pain, he said.

Schaap also claims Lozano failed to understand he could vary from sentencing guidelines and the ex-pastor's defense attorneys subsequently failed to raise any objections.

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