A New Jersey church pastor who founded what was billed as the “largest Christian rock festival” in the U.S., has been sentenced to 18 years in prison for sexually abusing four minors and having “inappropriate” interactions with another minor that last over a 16-year period.
Harry Thomas, 75, was the pastor of Come Alive Church in Medford, New Jersey. He also founded the Creation Music Festival.
This past February, Thomas pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree aggravated sexual assault, three counts of second-degree sexual assault and one count of second-degree endangering the welfare of a child, according to various news reports.
Earlier this week, Thomas’s attorney tried to retract his client’s guilty plea, saying it would be a “death sentence.” The judge denied the request.
According to Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina, Thomas’s case shows “the unmasking of a true Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”
“An individual who professed to be a man of faith and who has made many positive contributions to strangers committed the ultimate act of betrayal against family members who loved and trusted him,” Coffina said.
“There is no sentence that can approximate justice in light of this defendant’s despicable acts against these children, but it is gratifying that the victims have been spared the pain of a trial and the defendant almost certainly will spend the rest of his life in prison, where he never can harm a child again,” he added.
After being sentenced, Thomas cried openly and apologized for his actions.
“I’m very sorry for the pain I’ve caused. I agree with the scriptures. It would be better for a millstone to be hung around my neck and be cast into the sea. That’s what I deserve,” he said, referencing a bible verse.
Attorney Craig Hubert, who represented the victims, described Thomas’s actions as “a horrific tragedy” that will live with the victims forever.
“Harry Thomas failed,” Hubert said. “He failed himself, he failed his family, he failed his community, which includes his church … and he failed his God.”
“One has to be reminded that sometimes Satan comes as a man of peace.”