FORT WAYNE – The 51-year-old former foster parent asked a judge to keep him out of prison for the rest of his life, but with a 40-year prison sentence for child molesting, that is not a likely outcome.
In February, an Allen Superior Court jury convicted James M. Burton of two of four counts of child molesting, believing the account of a young girl who said the former pastor of Greater Faith Baptist Church had repeatedly touched her and performed sex acts on her while she lived with him in foster care.
The two counts of Class A child molesting – each punishable by 20 to 50 years in prison – were the most serious charges Burton faced. The jurors acquitted Burton of two Class C felony counts of child molesting punishable by up to eight years.
The girl, now 10, alleged he touched her sexually as well as performed a sex act on her and had her perform a sex act on him while she was staying in his home as a foster child between June 2009 and January 2012.
She eventually disclosed the allegations to the staff at her elementary school, court documents said. Burton was charged in December 2012.
The girl was removed from the Burtons’ home that year.
During Friday morning’s sentencing hearing, both Burton and those who spoke for him expressed surprise the case had made it this far.
I tried to help people out all my life, Burton said. I worked hard for what I achieved.
He said he and his wife opened up their home to the girl and her siblings as an emergency placement, so they could stay together. Those kids were happy in our home. I’m not a monster as the prosecutor has painted me as. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life in prison.
Later in the hearing, an angrier Burton told the court he was depressed and discouraged.
The jury found me guilty on the word of a kid, he said.
The Rev. James Cotton, a pastor from Chicago, said he never had a complaint about Burton when he worked for him at his church before he moved to Fort Wayne.
And he suggested the standard for conviction should be beyond a shadow of a doubt, comparing Burton’s situation to the Old Testament figure of Joseph who was wrongfully accused and imprisoned, as well as Jesus.
Cotton said he hopes it does not take years for someone to come forward to say they had been lying against Burton.
But when she sentenced Burton, Allen Superior Court Judge Fran Gull referenced the numbers of adults in the girl’s life who believed her story.
Twelve adults on that jury believed that child, she said, then referenced the number of letters she received from caseworkers and others in support of the girl. All the adults in her life believe that child.
This was a broken child who came to you and became even more broken, Gull told Burton. She loved you What would a child have to gain by saying this?
Gull sentenced Burton to 40 years on each charge but ordered the sentences to be served at the same time. Under Indiana law, the sentence for child molesting and certain other crimes does not award the same type of credit for good behavior as other felonies.
That means Burton will serve the majority of his prison sentence before he is eligible for parole.