By Peter H. Milliken
The former Cornersburg pastor would not have to register his whereabouts as a sex offender.
YOUNGSTOWN — Dale Giffin, the former Zion Lutheran Church pastor indicted on six counts charging him with raping a young adult female parishioner, is scheduled to plead guilty or no contest to two counts of simple assault this week.
The plea hearing is set for 10 a.m. Thursday before Judge James C. Evans of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court, who is slated to sentence him in the same hearing.
Natasha K. Frenchko, an assistant county prosecutor, said she is recommending that Giffin be placed on probation, with the condition that he not serve as a clergyman. “We don’t want him occupying a position of trust in the community,” she said in a recent interview.
The duration of the probation will be up to the judge, Frenchko said, adding that she will drop four of the rape counts and reduce the other two to simple assault.
The accuser is aware of the contents of the prosecution’s plea offer and sentencing recommendation, Frenchko said. The accuser, who now lives west of the Mississippi River, is scheduled to attend the hearing, where she is expected to make a victim-impact statement, Frenchko said.
The original rape charges in the indictment are first-degree felonies, each carrying three to 10 years in prison, up to a $20,000 fine and a sex-offender registration requirement upon conviction.
The simple-assault charges are first-degree misdemeanors, each carrying a potential penalty of up to six months in jail and a fine up to $1,000.
The misdemeanor counts say Giffin knowingly caused, or attempted to cause, physical harm to another person, but they make no reference to any sexual offense, so Giffin would not have to register as a sex offender after conviction of those offenses.
Giffin, who was pastor of the Cornersburg church for almost 30 years, resigned from that post and from the Lutheran ministry nearly a year ago. Giffin, 60, of Topaz Circle, Canfield, has no prior criminal record.
The indicted offenses are alleged to have occurred between 1993 and 1996. Giffin pleaded innocent to the rape charges and remains free on bond.
Frenchko said she made the plea bargain in exchange for an agreement by the defense to drop its motion to dismiss the charges. The defense dropped the motion before the judge ruled on it.
“We considered all the facts and circumstances surrounding the case, and it’s a fair resolution,” Frenchko said, declining to elaborate.
“Everyone should be satisfied” because, by entering the plea, Giffin would be making an admission that he committed crimes, said Dawn Cantalamessa, another assistant county prosecutor. To date, Giffin has made no admissions of guilt, she said.
The dismissal motion, filed by Atty. J. Gerald Ingram, said the rape charges should be thrown out because they are vague and lack the necessary element of physical force or threat.
Neither Ingram nor Giffin could be reached for comment.
Giffin used his status and position in the church to take advantage of the woman, who came forward with her allegations in August 2008, Cantalamessa said.
Giffin was “an authority figure,” and the accuser viewed him “as a father figure,” Frenchko said in court papers.
“It’s important to prosecute anyone who holds a position of trust and violates that position,” Cantalamessa added.
Cantalamessa reported that Giffin sexually abused the accuser beginning when she was 15, but, because the statute of limitations then in effect has expired, the charges in the indictment pertain only to crimes purportedly committed during the accuser’s young adulthood, Cantalamessa said. The accuser turned 18 in 1989.
“If the state is allowed to proceed with the case, the defendant would be forced to stand trial, for essentially his life, for having consensual sex with another adult,” Ingram argued in a court filing.
Based on the allegations, Lutheran Bishop Elizabeth Eaton asked for and received Giffin’s resignation from the Zion pastorship last November. Giffin also resigned from the Evangelical Lutheran Church clergy roster even though the bishop said she did not ask him to do so.
Bishop Eaton declined to make any new comments for this story, but she said in September that she found the allegations against Giffin “very credible” and that she believed it would be helpful if Giffin would admit his guilt.