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Evangelist sentenced to 10 years in prison

UPDATED Sept. 18 with new information in the eighth paragraph.

HERNANDO, Miss. (BP) — Sammy Nuckolls, an evangelist who spoke for years at Southern Baptist and other youth gatherings, remains in custody after being sentenced to 10 years in prison for taping women with a hidden pen camera.

Nuckolls, who is in his mid-30s, also must pay nearly $85,000 in fines and counseling for his victims.

Having waived his right to a jury trial, Nuckolls was found guilty by a Mississippi judge on 13 counts of video voyeurism for crimes dating to 2006, according to WMC-TV in Memphis, Tenn. Though Nuckolls may appeal the Sept. 14 decision by DeSoto County Judge Gerald Chatham, bond was denied.

Over a period of four years, Nuckolls videotaped women as young as 17 in private situations without their consent. WMC reported that victims wept on the stand as they recounted friendships with Nuckolls, a spiritual leader they trusted.

Chatham said Nuckolls hid behind the cloak of religion to commit despicable crimes, WMC said.

“You were fulfilling your depraved, licentious sexual desires,” the judge told Nuckolls. “You robbed them of their dignity and trust. It’s the first time I’ve ever heard the expression ‘video rape.’ I suppose that’s what it is. That’s what they feel anyway.”

Defense attorney Ronald Michael told ABC 24 News in Memphis, “I see someone who got caught up in lust. It’s almost like a pornographic-type situation. I think it overpowered him.”

Eric Garner, who leads Celebrate Recovery at NorthStar Church in Saltillo, Miss., told Baptist Press Nuckolls was a faithful participant in the rehabilitation program before he went to prison.

A total of 21 victims were confirmed in Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas and Virginia, ABC 24 News reported.

After his sentencing, Nuckolls was taken straight to the DeSoto County jail.

“The judge ordered that he undergo a mental evaluation, saying he’s not convinced Nuckolls isn’t suffering from some sort of disease or psychosis,” the ABC affiliate reported. “The judge said he will reevaluate this ruling after that test and those results.”

WMC-TV, meanwhile, said the report is due in court in nine months, and Nuckolls’ sentence could be reduced depending on the findings.

Earlier this year, Nuckolls pleaded guilty to charges of video voyeurism in two Arkansas towns. He still faces charges in Texas.

Nuckolls admitted in April to videotaping women in private situations without their consent in Waldron, Ark. His five-year prison term was suspended, he was ordered to register as a sex offender in the state of Arkansas, and he was asked to pay more than $1,600 in fines and fees.

In Gosnell, Ark., Nuckolls also pleaded guilty to video voyeurism after videotaping a woman undressing in her home where he was staying while preaching a revival last fall. He was put on probation there for three years.

In Seymour, Texas, Nuckolls was charged with one count of improper photography or visual recording with multiple victims.

According to sources familiar with Nuckolls’ speaking schedule, an estimated 100 churches or groups per year were scheduling him to speak before the crimes surfaced.

Among those that have used Nuckolls were LifeWay Christian Resources’ student camps, which terminated its relationship with Nuckolls when the charges were revealed last fall.

In a statement to Baptist Press Sept. 17, LifeWay said, “We are praying Nuckolls’ conviction and sentencing help the victims begin to heal from this terrible violation of their trust and faith.”

The statement continued, “And, even though Nuckolls passed numerous background checks and there are no allegations any victims were videotaped at LifeWay events, this situation illustrates the need for constant vigilance by churches, agencies and other ministries trusted with protecting our children and youth.”

Nuckolls originally was hired to serve in the role of a camp pastor from 2003-06. In 2007 his role changed to a contract speaker at general assemblies and large gatherings. LifeWay conducts both reference and criminal background checks for those speaking at student camps.

According to an Internet search, among the places Nuckolls spoke were the Baptist Campus Ministries at the University of Alabama in November 2009, Blue Mountain College in Virginia in August 2011 and churches in several states.

A non-denominational church in Southlake, Texas, where Nuckolls spoke to youth about a half-dozen times in three years, said he passed a required background check there, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Erin Roach. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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