By Ray Brewer and Arielle Mitropoulos
NASHUA, New Hampshire (WMUR) — The former pastor of a Nashua church is on his way to prison after pleading guilty Thursday to the manufacture and possession of child sex abuse images.
Stephen Bates, 48, pleaded guilty to one count of the manufacture of child sex abuse images and 10 counts of possession of such images.
In court, one of Bates’ victims spoke via Zoom, saying that the former pastor robbed her of her innocence.
“Within a split second, I felt like I had lost all my innocence, and trust in all men,” the victim said.
The emotion was heard in her voice as she faced her abuser in court.
“To curl up at night, and wonder if living is really worth it,” she said. “I couldn’t understand why someone would want to hurt me like this.”
Also in the courtroom were some members of his former church, along with members of the Nashua Police Department who were involved in the case.
Bates was pastor at the Bible Baptist Church in Nashua. In 2016, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children told police that someone was downloading child sex abuse images at the church by tracing the IP address.
Eventually, a detective posing as a young girl managed to uncover Bates’ involvement, prosecutors said.
A search warrant uncovered the images, including one instance in which Bates pretended to be a girl and convinced a boy to take pictures of himself and send them to him.
Prosecutors said Bates initially lied when first questioned years ago by Nashua detectives.
“I am deeply sorry to the other individual and to all those I may have harmed,” Bates said.
Judge Jacalyn Colburn said that at first, she was not inclined to accept the plea bargain, calling Bates’ conduct a breach of trust.
“You used the word ‘horrified,’ and that’s an excellent word, because these were horrific crimes, and you should be horrified. You should be horrified,” she said. “You’re a very intelligent man. You have the support of a family and a lot of people in your community, and you abused that trust and support.”
Bates was sentenced to 10-23 years in prison on the manufacturing charge. He can get two years off the minimum sentence if he completes a sexual offender course.
He received a suspended sentence of seven-and-a-half to 15 years in prison on the possession charges.
One of the survivors of Bates’ abuse said the process of healing can now finally begin.
“Your choices and actions have brought you where you are today, but I hope you know that God still loves and forgives,” the victim said. “Turn to his grace, and please don’t hurt any more children.”
Once Bates is released, he will have to register as a sex offender. He will also not be allowed to be alone with anyone under the age of 16 and was ordered not to have any contact with his victims.
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