Former children’s minister at Friendship Baptist convicted of child sex abuse

Published 12:45 pm Friday, August 3, 2018

By J.R. Tidwell / Editor

The former children’s minister at Friendship Baptist Church in Clanton was convicted Aug. 3 on one count of sexual abuse of a child under 12.

59-year-old Gary Smitherman of Clanton was arrested in March of 2017 and indicted in January of this year.

According to C.J. Robinson, the assistant district attorney for the 19th Circuit Judicial Office, Smitherman was tutoring a young female at his home with whom he had contact with through his position at the time with the church.

These tutoring sessions would last until late at night, and Smitherman began asking the victim to stay at his house overnight.

The offense that led to his arrest and conviction occurred in early 2017.

“He touched her inappropriately, and she told a member of her family,” Robinson said. “The Chilton County Sheriff’s Office investigated the case.”

According to Assistant Chief Deputy Shane Mayfield, Lt. Lee Falkner from the CCSO Special Operations Division investigated the case “from start to finish and put a ton of work into it.”

“We are proud of the job he did on that case,” Mayfield said. ” We try to make crimes against our most vulnerable citizens a top priority.”

Robinson said the August conviction was quick for someone who was indicted in January.

“It’s good for the victim to not have the case drag out,” he said.

The trial lasted three days before a jury came back with the guilty verdict.

The offense is a Class B felony that carries a sentence of 2-20 years.

Smitherman’s bond was revoked upon his conviction, so he will remain in the Chilton County Jail until his sentencing takes place on Aug. 30.

Kristy Peoples and Caroline Blaylock were the prosecutors for the case.

“I couldn’t be more proud of the attorneys from our office,” Robinson said. “Their main goal was to seek the truth and justice, and they never took their eye off the ball. They were able to get justice for the victim, and any time someone in a position of authority is a predator and we can get them away from victims or potential victims, it’s a good day.”