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Former pastor pleads guilty to child porn

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Dry Ridge church changes name to New Beginnings

By Brendan Kirby
Press Register in Mobile, Ala.

MOBILE, Ala. — A former church leader from Kentucky pleaded guilty April 19 to charges that he posted child pornography on his Facebook pages and used the social networking website to send images to others.

Jerry L. Cannon, 63, faces five to 20 years on each of two counts of distribution of child pornography. Assistant U.S. Attorney Maria Murphy said U.S. District Judge Ginny Granade could run the sentences for both one after the other.

“It’s a tough thing he’s into,” defense attorney Greg Hughes said of his client’s legal problems and decision to forego a trial. “You just pick the lesser of possible bad consequences.”

Immediately following his plea, federal marshals removed Cannon’s belt, placed him in handcuffs and led him to jail, where he will stay until his sentencing hearing in July. He was extradited from the Boone County Jail to Alabama, where he had been living with his brother since March 21 when an Alabama judge  said he didn’t pose a flight risk.

Originally from Mobile, Cannon worked as a land surveyor and founded God’s House Church, a nondenominational Church of God in Dry Ridge, with his wife and two other couples four years ago.

“It was a total shock,” said Todd Cummins, head deacon of the church, recalling the day FBI agents showed up at Cannon’s home. “It’s been tough. It’s been rough on the congregation as a whole.”

‘He was living a double life’

Cummins said the church, which has changed its name to New Beginnings, immediately dismissed Cannon as pastor and since has elevated the associate pastor to the top position.

Cummins said Cannon worked hard to build up the church from its humble beginnings in his garage.

“He was living a double life,” Cummins said. “He knows the Bible as well as anyone I’ve ever met.”

The FBI launched its investigation after Fairhope police referred a complaint made by a resident who reported seeing child pornography on the Facebook page of a man named Terry Lewis, which authorities later discovered was a fake profile that Cannon created.

An undercover FBI agent took over the resident’s Facebook account and began communicating with Cannon in January. Cannon’s plea agreement contains a number of messages that he sent through Facebook during the time the FBI agent was controlling the account.

“Wow, take me some pics please and fill me in real good, I have about 25 albums of pics on here so far,” one of the messages reads. “I had to start over when I was deleted, I will add you to see all, they range mostly 9-21yrs old, I like them to be 10-16 myself but in personal relationship, older 21-35, kisses.”

The FBI agent wrote in an affidavit that she saw more than 600 images of child pornography on Jan. 26, including prepubescent girls with exposed private areas, on Cannon’s fake profile. He also had multiple videos, including those depicting adults raping toddlers, according to the affidavit.

A day later, Cannon sent an e-mail saying he had new pictures and asking for some in return, according to court records.

Facebook eventually disabled the Terry Lewis account, but authorities said he used a total of 13 phony accounts in addition to his real profile. Investigators found messages he sent to one Facebook user in April of last year saying he could not get child pornography “out of his system.”

Using assumed name
Authorities said Cannon also sent a message under an assumed name to another user in November saying that “trusted employee Jerry Cannon” had sent $100 to pay for a young girl to make pictures of herself.

Hughes said Cannon sent the money but denied that it was to procure child pornography, a factor that could result in a longer prison sentence.

For the congregation, Cummins said they are ready to move forward.

“We’re still in the same location. We removed the sign for now but we are looking to a new beginning. We just want to start over and get past this,” Cummins said.

He said church attendance has increased since Cannon’s arrest.

“His wife no longer attends,” Cummins said. “The church wants to be involved in the community.”

Cummins said he considered Cannon a personal friend and they got close when they spent a lot of time working to build the church. “It’s still a shock. I’m still stunned that it happened, but God has a plan and he has a plan for him in jail,” Cummins said.

Cummins said he’ll always wonder why Cannon didn’t reach out to him or others in the congregation to admit he had a problem.

“Why couldn’t he have said to me that he had demons to get under control or to step down so he could work on them, I don’t know,” Cummins said.

“It just goes to remind us that the devil can get to any of us - even someone who knows the Bible as well as he (Cannon) does,” Cummins said.

(Portions of this story are being reprinted with permission of the Press Register in Mobile, Ala. Jamie Baker-Nantz, editor of the Grant County News, also contributed to the story.)