ELKTON — A former Rising Sun-area church youth group leader received a seven-year prison sentence Tuesday morning after he pleaded guilty to child abuse in relation to his sexual assault of a 13-year-old girl roughly three decades ago.
Allen Lyle Price, 58, of Quarryville, Pa., was arrested in September and charged in connection with sexual assaults of five girls who attended Grace Bible Chapel’s youth group three decades ago, according to police.
The investigation into the cases began in the summer of 2017 when state police criminal investigators received information concerning Price, according to Maryland State Police. With the assistance of the Cecil County Child Advocacy Center, the Cecil County State’s Attorney’s Office and various allied law enforcement agencies, the alleged victims were interviewed and evidence was collected. At Tuesday’s hearing, prosecutors revealed that Price’s own daughters aided in the investigation against him.
On Sept. 27, a Cecil County grand jury issued five indictments, charging Price with five counts of felony second-degree child abuse, 41 counts of felony second-degree sex offense, three counts of felony third-degree sex offense, 49 counts of fourth-degree sex offense, a misdemeanor, and 11 counts of second-degree assault, also a misdemeanor.
On Tuesday, Cecil County Assistant State’s Attorney Shauna Lee explained to the packed courtroom that Price’s single abuse charge and negotiated seven-year sentence was the result of some of the alleged victims’ desire to not testify, a weakened legal standing in one case and discussions with the victims, all of whom are now grown.
“What a child victim goes through by a man who they trust … they reach a point as to whether to go forward and that is not my decision,” Lee told the court. “These victims have walked around with shame, remorse and fear for the majority of their lives. Seven years doesn’t seem sufficient for the harm this man has caused, but it’s the cost of anonymity … Compromise had to be made.”
Price was a volunteer youth group leader at Grace Bible Chapel from 1987 until 2001, police reported, charging that during that time he assaulted and abused five girls who at the time ranged in age from 11 to 16.
Among the five different locations that he was alleged to have assaulted the victims was the church, according to court records. Now located at 1949 Joseph Biggs Highway, Grace Bible Chapel was operating from its prior location at 251 Old Zion Road near North East during that period.
Price allegedly molested three of the girls and fondled a fourth between 1986 and 1992, according to pretrial documents. His fifth alleged victim, from whom 91 of the 109 charges stemmed, accused him of forcing her to perform oral sex on him about 40 times, as well as molesting and fondling her, between 1988 and 1990, according to court documents.
In accepting the plea agreement, Price agreed to a statement of facts that said he forced that victim to perform oral sex on him while pulled over on a Rising Sun-area country road.
At Tuesday’s sentencing hearing, two of Price’s alleged victims addressed the court directly, while the victim for whom Price pleaded guilty to assaulting submitted a victim impact statement that was read aloud.
In that statement, the woman, now 43, said that she couldn’t bear the thought of testifying in court and that she wouldn’t have come forward to police if other alleged victims hadn’t been identified.
“I had nothing to gain from telling my story, and everything to lose,” she wrote.
The victim said that over the years she had told her husband and close friends of the abuse, but planned to “take the secret to her grave.” She said she had looked back on Price’s abuse as a “rose-tinted memory of a love affair,” when he was 28 and she was 13.
“With the wisdom of adulthood, I can see now that he was a predator,” she wrote.
One of Price’s other alleged victims told the court Tuesday that she attended Grace Bible Chapel until 2014 and attended its youth group decades ago with Price when she was a “young, shy girl.”
“Mr. Price was very charming and paid special attention to me,” she recalled, noting that he made her feel as if “the sun was shining just for me.”
The woman recounted how Price drove her home one night, passing by her home and parking on a desolate country road. There he fondled her, before returning to her home, she said.
“I remember that I was wearing my favorite sweatshirt that night and after that night I never wore that sweatshirt again,” she said.
For about a decade she kept the incident a secret until she said that Price reached back out to her as an older woman, and they engaged in an affair. Remorseful over their actions and recognizing the prior alleged abuse, she said in 2001 she consulted Grace Bible Chapel leaders about both the affair and the abuse, and they told her to be careful in talking about the matter so as to not tarnish Price’s reputation.
“Seven years is not long enough, but at least I’ll know that he will not be able to abuse anyone else,” she said.
Finally, a second of Price’s alleged victims also recounted how he used his position as youth group leader to groom her for abuse.
She recounted how he pulled over on Route 272 one night while taking her home and molested her in his car. Specifically, she said she remembers the reflection of passing vehicles’ headlights in Price’s eyes as he was on top of her.
“I’ve had the flashbacks of that scene and his eyes for years,” she said, telling the court that she has sought counseling and taken leave from work due to the trauma. “He was supposed to protect me and instead he betrayed me. He deserves life (in prison) for the pain he caused … but, as a Christian, (God’s) justice should strike fear in Al’s heart.”
Prior to sentencing, Price’s defense attorney Gregg Bernstein, of the Washington-based Zuckerman Spaeder LLP firm, told the court that his client has been engaged in sex addiction recovery efforts for two years, undergoing inpatient treatment and psychological evaluations, and subsequently attending weekly counseling and addiction group meetings.
“He is working hard at redemption and recovery,” Bernstein said. “Hopefully, the time for healing will now begin.”
Afterward, a tearful Price, wearing a blue suit jacket and blue jeans, apologized to his victims, the church, the community at-large and his family.
“I’m sorry for it all, there’s nothing I can do to change the past,” he said, noting he plans to continue seeking God and attending treatment. “I have no words to heal your pain.”
In sentencing, Cecil County Circuit Court Administrative Judge Keith Baynes agreed to the negotiated seven-year sentence for Price’s plea. Sentencing guidelines for Price, who has no prior criminal record, set a range between four and nine years for the sole charge of child abuse.
“You may not feel fortunate right now, but you are very fortunate (for this sentence),” Baynes told Price from the bench. “You’re one of the worst kinds of criminal. You preyed on innocent youth.”
In accepting the plea deal, prosecutors also agreed to drop two of Price’s other felony indictments while stetting the other two. A stetted, or inactive, case can be reopened by the state within two years under certain conditions.
Previously, Price’s defense team was successful in getting all 60 misdemeanor counts against Price dismissed in a Feb. 8 hearing. They argued that misdemeanors against children have a three-year statute of limitations in Maryland, which would have expired more than 25 years ago in most of the cases.
Furthermore, in 2011 the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that those who are found guilty of sex offenses committed prior to the establishment of Maryland’s sex offender registry in 1995 could not be listed, as it would violate their rights. That ruling means that despite Price’s plea, he will not be compelled to register as a sex offender.
Commenting on that fact, Assistant State’s Attorney Lee said that “it is unfortunate that in 1988 the laws in this state had not caught up with what we now know about child sexual abuse.”
In a statement issued after sentencing, Interim State’s Attorney James Dellmyer said it “is vital for us to consider the wishes of victims in weighing the appropriate disposition in emotionally charged cases such as these. “
“We would like to thank the members of the Maryland State Police Criminal Enforcement Division for their dedication in investigating these cases, the witnesses who came forward, and the victims whose courage brought about this successful resolution,” he added.
Last week, Grace Bible Chapel released the following statement in regards to Price’s case in reply to a Whig inquiry for reaction:
“Our greatest concern is for those victims who have been affected by Mr. Price’s evil behavior and our desire is to see them experience healing and restoration. Words cannot adequately express the sorrow we feel for the evil each of them has endured. Our hearts break for them, their families, and their supporters who have all suffered because of Mr. Price’s deceit and sinful abuse. We are relieved to know that the victims will not have to suffer the additional pain of a public trial, however, we were disappointed to learn that the planned sentence will not be more severe.”
“We have reviewed our existing policies and implemented additional practices with the help of MinistrySafe, a national consulting entity dedicated to providing industry-leading tools and resources to help churches and ministries prevent child sexual abuse.”
“We continue to pray for the victims’ healing from the wrongs that were done to them by someone they should have been able to trust. We encourage everyone to speak out against such abuse and to offer support and encouragement to anyone they may know who has been affected in any way by events such as these.”