The former pastor of a Four Oaks area church was sentenced to prison Thursday after pleaded guilty to 32 criminal charges. Stephen Arthur Morris pleaded to 11 counts of Attempted Statutory Sex Offense, 13 counts of Taking Indecent Liberties with a Child, 6 counts of Second Degree Exploitation of a Child, one count of Attempted First Degree Sexual Exploitation of a Minor and one count of Solicitation to Commit First Degree Sexual Exploitation of a Minor.
Under the plea agreement all charges were consolidated for one judgment. Resident Superior Court Judge Thomas H. Lock sentenced the 63 year-old defendant to a minimum of 10 years and a maximum of 17 years in prison. Upon his release, Morris will be required to register as a convicted sex offender.
Morris was originally charged on July 5, 2019 with sexually assaulting a juvenile female approximately five years earlier when she was 13. The victim said Morris was her pastor at Oliver’s Grove Baptist Church. Morris resigned from his position at the time of his first arrest. On October 9, 2019, Morris was rearrested after two additional female victims came forward reporting Morris attempted to exploit them. In May 2020, more charges were added after the NC SBI completed a forensic examination of several computers and electronic storage devices previously seized from Morris.
“The District Attorney’s Office is pleased that the Defendant has been held accountable,” stated Assistant District Attorney Paul Jackson. “The Defendant’s crimes were predatory and a gross exploitation of his position of trust and authority. We agreed to the plea in close consultation with the survivor of these crimes. We are grateful to her for bravely coming forward to prevent other children from being victimized by the defendant. We continue to be impressed with her strength and character. Her desire for both justice and mercy is extraordinary. We are also grateful to lead Detective Joey Harrell and the Johnston County Sheriff’s Office for their hard work and excellent investigation.”