AUBURN — A former youth minister at a Lewiston church pleaded guilty to a felony sex charge Monday. Under the terms of a plea agreement, he will be allowed to swap the felony plea with a misdemeanor in a year if he stays out of trouble.
Joshua Williams, 23, who formerly lived at 16 Granite St., was scheduled to stand trial in Androscoggin County Superior Court this month on three counts of felony gross sexual assault and three misdemeanor counts of unlawful sexual contact. He agreed to the plea arrangement before a jury was picked for his case.
The charges stem from allegations brought by a male teenage member of the First Assembly of God Church. Williams worked at the church from June 2009 to October 2010, according to a church spokesman. During that period, Williams was alleged to have committed the crimes. Church officials reported the allegations to Auburn police and fired Williams, according to the church's board of directors.
The alleged victim was 15 years old in 2009, according to a parent.
Williams pleaded guilty Monday to gross sexual assault, the first count on the grand jury indictment. Had he been convicted of that crime, Williams could have been punished by up to five years in prison. Instead, he will be able to withdraw that plea after a year if he has not violated the terms of his agreement. He can then enter a guilty plea to simple assault involving offensive bodily contact. There won't be a sexual component to that plea, said his attorney, Leonard Sharon. Williams won't be required to register as a sex offender, which would have been mandated had he been convicted on the felony charge, Sharon said.
The charge to which Williams pleaded guilty stemmed from an incident in Bar Harbor on Aug. 15 during a camping trip.
Williams must complete a sex offender counseling program as part of his agreement, starting by mid-January. That includes sending progress reports every three months to the court.
If, after a year, he has complied with the terms of the agreement, he'll be sentenced only on the misdemeanor charge with no jail time and no fine. The other five counts in his indictment were dismissed.
He was ordered to have no contact with the victim over the next year.
Sharon said the plea agreement wouldn't have been possible without the consent of the victim and his parent.
"It's really because of the graciousness" of the two, he said, and the victim's parent's forgiveness of Williams and that parent's belief in Williams, Sharon said. The victim's parent couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday.
According to a church pastor, Williams was hired to work in various aspects of church ministry, including music and youth ministries at the Pentecostal church on Hogan Road. Williams’ main focus was on the youth ministries. The program was geared to teen members in grades 7 through 12.