By John W. Goodwin Jr.
A victim who addressed the court said the former Cornersburg clergyman believed he was invincible.
YOUNGSTOWN — A former pastor accused of rape has cut a deal avoiding jail time, but he could not avoid a searing lecture from the woman who says he abused her.
Dale Giffin, 60, of Topaz Circle, Canfield, under an agreement with county prosecutors, pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of assault. Giffin was initially indicted on six counts of rape by a Mahoning County grand jury in February.
Judge James Evans of common pleas court sentenced Giffin immediately after accepting his guilty plea Thursday morning.
Giffin was sentenced to one year in prison with all the prison time suspended. He was ordered to pay a $1,500 fine, perform 240 hours of community service and spend the next two years on probation with the first 30 days being spent on house arrest. Giffin also is banned from serving as a member of the clergy.
Giffin was pastor of Zion Lutheran Church in Cornersburg. He served as pastor of the 2,327-member Cornersburg church for nearly 30 years until he resigned from that post and from the ministry last November.
The charges stem from allegations of rape brought forward in August 2008 by a former church member. The indictment accused Giffin of raping the woman while she was a young adult parishioner between 1993 and 1996.
There were accusations of sexual conduct while the girl was a minor, but too much time had passed to bring those allegations to court.
Prosecutors recommended Giffin be placed on probation and not be allowed to serve as a member of the clergy as part of the plea agreement.
Natasha Frenchko, an assistant county prosecutor, said the prosecutors office is happy with the agreement and Giffin’s admission that something took place between he and the woman. She said the plea deal was reached because of concerns over what level of force was used against the woman during the sex acts.
“We are asking this based on evidentiary issues after the defendant was indicted,” she told the court. “There are evidentiary issues concerning the amount of force or the type of force,” she told the court.
Giffin appeared in court wearing a dark suit and white shirt with his attorney J. Gerald Ingram. He sat without emotion as the victim in the case addressed the court, and at times him directly, changing his expression only when the woman mentioned comments Giffin allegedly made to her about his wife.
The accuser, who attended the hearing with a group of family members and friends, read a statement to the court about her feelings toward Giffin and detailed some of the acts she said he committed upon her over the years.
“This man has been living a lie for the last 30 years, preaching from the pulpit and plotting his next sexual quest,” she said. “Dale Giffin fooled me just as he did other members of that congregation.”
The woman said Giffin would make eye contact and gestures toward her from the pulpit of the church. She said Giffin did not miss an opportunity to make a sexual gesture or perform a sexual act with her, often times when other members of the church were walking nearby halls or in nearby rooms.
The accuser, now married with three children, told the court the sexual abuse from Giffin started when she was 15 and he told her to come to the church for a project, but ended up fondling her leg and kissing her. She said Giffin, a few weeks later, led her to the basement of the church and had sex with her on a cold floor.
The woman said she was left by her father at the age of 6 and was looking for a father figure in Giffin, but told the court that she “walked right into the arms of a molester and rapist.” She said she was made to feel like family at times and an object for sexual gratification at other times.
“Dale Giffin never missed an opportunity to satisfy his sexual desire. ... There was never a break, never just a talk or how are you,” she said.
The woman told the court the sexual activity went on in the church and at Giffin’s home with his family close by.
“He acted like he was invincible,” she added.
Ingram told the court Giffin has never been in trouble with the law, is gainfully employed and cares for his 86-year-old mother. He also pointed out that the accuser has had willing contact with Giffin, such as at her wedding and visits to Giffin’s home with her husband and child, long after she was an adult.
Ingram read excerpts from letters supplied to the court in support of Giffin.
“Virtually every letter speaks to Dale Giffin’s compassion, empathy and the wonderful effect he has had on their lives,” Ingram said.
Giffin did address the court, saying the allegations and subsequent court proceedings already have ruined his life.
“My career and livelihood are gone. My personal reputation has been destroyed. ... This past year has been a living hell,” he said.
Giffin, before sentencing, asked the court to remember the good things he has done.
Judge Evans, after his ruling, said he hoped the church could bring itself back together using the situation to find strength.