Alabama Evangelist Paul Acton Bowen Sentenced to 1,008 Years in Prison
Alabama evangelist Paul Acton Bowen was sentenced Friday to 1,008 years in prison- the maximum on all counts – for his guilty pleas to sexually abusing a half dozen teenagers.
In addition, he was ordered to pay $840,000 in fines for all counts, also the maximum.
Bowen, 39, entered guilty pleas earlier this month in Etowah County to 28 counts of sexual abuse involving six male victims between the ages of 13 and 16. The charges included enticing a child for a sexual act, sodomy, traveling to meet a child for a sexual act and sexual abuse.
Circuit Judge Debra Jones presided over the case after several Etowah County judges recused themselves. Bowen’s ex-wife is the daughter of an Etowah County judge.
Moments before being sentenced, Bowen, standing in shackles, looked out on a packed courtroom and apologized in a trembling voice, both to his own family and the victims, for years of sexual abuse. “The shame and guilt I feel is overwhelming and has been for a long time,” he said. “My heart was never wanting to hurt anybody but my mind was not well.”
Family members and victims wept as Jones slowly read out the maximum sentence and fine on every count. Each sentence is to run consecutively – rather than concurrent.
Bowen still faces trial in Jefferson County on three felony charges of traveling to meet a child for sex, enticing a child for a sexual act and sodomy. Trial is set on those charges for April 20, 2020. If Bowen ever should be released from jail on his Etowah County convictions – which prosecutors said was unlikely – he would be considered a “sexually violent predator,” which means he would face a 10-year probationary period.
Bowen served for 12 years in a local church, led a citywide student Bible study in Gadsden and was also the host of xlroads TV, a worldwide broadcast viewed weekly by millions of teens and adults in every city in America and more than 170 countries around the world.
The Etowah County charges dealt with young boys who told investigators that, after they met Bowen through his ministry, they were abused in several ways not only in Etowah County but during trips to different states and abroad. The young male victims told investigators the misconduct lasted months, and sometimes years.
One of the victims, a teenage boy over the age of 12 but under the age of 16, said Bowen exposed him to sexual intercourse from 2006 through 2009. Another victim claims the abuse happened from 2014 through 2017, and yet another reported to lawmen that he suffered the abuse in 2018.
In the sentencing hearing, which lasted more than an hour in Etowah County, District Attorney Jody Willoughby read out one victim’s impact statement. That victim, who said his abuse happened from the age of 12 to 15, said he saw Bowen as a “cool guy” who provided him with nice clothes, money and took him on trips, while at the same time, engaging in abuse.
“I could convince myself I was living the good life,” he wrote, “even as I was trying to suppress it.” But the victim said he developed a drinking problem that led to blackouts as he attempted to forget the pain and shame of abuse, seeing himself as “damaged goods.” This led to problems trusting others, difficulty opening up to his wife, and “a divide between me and my God” because of Bowen’s role as a pastor.
“He is a wolf in sheep’s skin,” the man wrote. Another wrote that Bowen “did his best to ruin the lives of other young men.” Another victim was prepared to testify in court but chose not to, too overcome by emotion. Willoughby said this shows how important Bowen’s guilty plea was, in that victims were not required to relive the abuse on the stand.
Bowen’s attorney John Floyd attempted to show that Bowen suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder due to his own experience of being sexually molested as a juvenile.
Deegan Mercer Malone, a clinical therapist who testified for the defense, called Bowen’s acts “horrific” but said that Bowen’s pattern was to act out the abuse that had been perpetrated on him. From the age of the victims to the “clinical” way he groomed them, spending time, dining at Mexican restaurants – all were recreating those moments of his own abuse, with him as the actor.
She described him as a “very damaged man who needed a great deal of help and never got it.” A psychologist, Eric Alexander Seeman, said Bowen’s abuse made him emotionally stunted and immature, unable to relate to his victims.
But Willoughby and Deputy District Attorney Carol Griffith said they do not believe Bowen was abused by the man he claims.
“There’s no evidence other than the defendant’s statements after he was arrested,” Willoughby said. “There have never been any reports to DHR and he’s never been reported by anyone.”
Police have said the victim in the Jefferson County case is a Hoover boy under the age of 16 and over the age of 12 who is a family acquaintance of Acton Bowen. Court records in the Jefferson County case say Bowen engaged in sexual intercourse with the teen boy and enticed him into getting into a 2010 Jeep Wrangler for the purpose of sodomy.
Bowen was first arrested by Hoover police in April 2018 on charges involving one male teen and later by Etowah County authorities in the case involving the other six victims.
Authorities have said they believe there are other victims who still have not been heard from. After the hearing, Willoughby said he would prosecute any other cases.
“There’s not a question in my mind,” he said. “If anyone is out there who wants to come forward, please let law enforcement know. We will get justice, justice will be had.”
Just before sentencing, Bowen quoted the book of James, saying “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” He said at church functions, he would often have people tell him they wished they could be like him.
“Inside my heart, I kept saying, ‘I’m the biggest sinner in the room,’” he said. “My pride kept me from asking for help. I’m so sorry.”
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