COLBERT COUNTY, AL (WAFF) - A former Colbert County children's pastor charged with multiple counts of sexual abuse and sodomy, pleaded guilty in court Friday morning.
Jeff Eddie pleaded guilty to 16 counts of sodomy, three counts of sexual abuse of a child and one count of child porn.
Eddie served as a children's pastor at Highland Park Baptist Church in Muscle Shoals. Eddie was arrested in early February and charged with more than 30 counts of child porn, sexual abuse of a child, and sodomy.
According to court documents, Eddie confessed to performing sex acts multiple times on children from his church.
Highland Park Baptist Church released this statement following Eddie's plea:
"These last few weeks have been some of the most difficult days in the history of our church and our community. After today's events, however, we hopefully will be able to move forward and begin healing. As we look to the future, we will continue to prioritize assisting the families who have been victimized by the actions of a man who was not what he appeared to be.
We have established the Highland Park Baptist Church Counseling Fund. This fund will serve to offset the counseling costs for these families. Anyone who would like to contribute can do so at any Progress Bank, First Metro, or Bank Independent location.
I want to express my continued appreciation for the hard work and commitment of the Muscle Shoals Police Department, the Alabama Bureau of Investigation and the District Attorney's Office in seeking justice in this case.
I would like to ask everyone to continue to pray for healing in the lives of these children, their families and our entire community."
Eddie will serve a total of 30 years under his plea. That sentence will be served concurrently.
"My client, his extremely wonderful and caring mother and father, plus his compassionate sisters wish to express their sincere sorrow and condolences to the victims and their families about this horrendous situation. They know that there is nothing they can say to make the situation go away, but their hearts are heavy with sorry," said Eddie's defense attorney, Billy Underwood.
Investigators said their number one focus during the case was protecting the victims, and that's what they did throughout the entire process. A judge granted a motion to have the records sealed following Friday's proceedings to further protect the victims. Both the defense attorney and prosecutors agreed they didn't want the case to go to trial. They said if the case would've gone to trial, there was a chance the victims would have had to testify, and that was something both sides felt would only further hurt the victims.
"We didn't want this case to go to trial," said Colbert County District Attorney Bryce Graham. "For anyone that says it's not enough, if it would've went any further then there's a possibility we would've had a child to testify, and we didn't want that to happen."
At one point during the trial, a victim's mother stood up and addressed Eddie directly on behalf of the church. She read messages from other families all expressing their anger and hopelessness brought on by a man whom they trusted their most prized possessions with. They knew many of their questions would never be answered, but then they spoke of forgiveness and healing.
Eddie didn't say much, in fact he never showed any motion, and was stone faced when the victim's mother addressed him directly.
"It was a unique case in the fact there were so many victims, and there was so much trust placed in this person, and it happened in a church with children," said Graham.
Underwood said the case had such a negative impact on the community, and he's glad they were able to provide some closure and hopefully start the healing process for the entire church including the victims.
"I thought it was a hypocrisy to violate these victims again in front of a 12 person jury and in front of the news media," said Underwood. "If we'd gone to trial they would have to be in front of all these people and it would rack the community for the one to two years that it would take to go to trial."
He said for the first time in his career with Eddie's approval he opened his filed to police, and credits the investigators at the Muscle Shoals Police Department for their work. Although his client will serve 30 years in prison, Underwood said he's committed to helping protect the victims.