RUSHVILLE, Ind. (WISH) — A former pastor was found not guilty in a molestation case that made national headlines.
Jurors acquitted Garry Evans, 74, on all 14 counts of child molestation, sexual battery and child solicitation after hearing two weeks of testimony.
The jury deliberated Friday for less than an hour before returning their “not guilty” verdict in Rush County Circuit Court.
Evans had refused to accept a plea deal and insisted on taking the case to trial, he and his defense attorneys said Tuesday in an exclusive interview with News 8.
“I’ve been trapped for two years, not able to get out of my house,” Evans said, describing the turmoil that followed his October 2017 arrest. “I was gone at prison for seven months… innocent, knowing that I did not do it. It hurt real bad and it’s still hurting.”
Jud McMillin, the lead defense attorney, said he was “petrified” of taking the case to trial despite “full confidence” in his client’s innocence.
“We can preach all day about the presumption of innocence [but] we’re starting a 100-yard race 50 yards behind when the jurors are brought in and they’re told these types of allegations,” he told News 8. “So it was the scariest trial I’ve ever done.”
Authorities began investigating Evans in 2017 after police claimed a 3-year-old girl told her mother she was sexually assaulted by the pastor.
Four additional girls — two pairs of sisters — accused Evans of inappropriate contact after authorities urged church parents to speak with their children about “good touch [versus] bad touch,” according to the defense.
A final girl came forward in November 2017 with claims similar to the initial accuser.
The six alleged victims were all between 3 and 7 years old.
The case against Evans was built on misinterpreted hearsay and “confirmation bias,” according to McMillin.
The first girl described a different perpetrator; made the initial outcry when her mother was in the shower and couldn’t clearly hear her; and failed to accurately describe Evans during a police interview, the defense claimed.
In recorded interviews obtained by News 8, a woman questioning the 3-year-old can be heard asking, “Do you know what color his hair is?”
“Brown,” she replies; the pastor has gray and white hair.
Video footage of the same interview shows the child looking through a photo line-up and repeatedly failing to identify Evans.
“Despite putting the pastor as [suspect] number five right in front of her, she never picks him out,” McMillin said. “They ask her 19 direct times.”
Defense attorneys questioned the credibility of the next four accusers. The sisters in each pair of siblings told “almost identical stories,” as if they had been coached, McMillin said.
Details in the final accuser’s story did not appear to fit the prosecution’s narrative, he said, and did not initially involve spending time in Evans’ office at Rushville Baptist Temple, where the alleged molestation occurred.
“What we were really able to show the jury is that before the investigating officer really knew what was going on, [authorities] made conclusions about what they thought was going on,” McMillin told News 8. “They had this narrative of ‘boogeyman in the closet’ that just wasn’t true.”
Rather than seeking the truth, investigators interpreted new evidence as confirmation of their belief that Evans was guilty, the defense alleged.
“I’ve been found not guilty but it still hurts,” the former pastor said. “I [feel] like at any moment somebody’s going to come and get me.”
The acquittal did not restore his reputation or help him get his job back, he added.
Evans described his incarceration as “painful.” He and his wife, Gay, were separated for the first time in their 53-year marriage during his prison stint. He received so many letters from his family — including his 14 grandchildren and 6 great-grandchildren — fellow inmates nicknamed him “The Mailbox.”
Evans and McMillin said Tuesday they had not ruled out the possibility of civil action but had not yet taken formal steps toward filing suit.
“I know a lot of folks who’d sit back and say, ‘Well, I would certainly sue!’ But a lot of people just want it over,” McMillin said. “They don’t want to continue to stir the pot.”
Lead investigators and prosecutors did not immediately respond to requests for comment from News 8.