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Pastor who called gays 'sinners' after Pulse shooting convicted of child molestation

Derek Hawkins, The Washington Post

Kenneth Adkins, a Georgia-based preacher and anti-gay activist who called homosexuals "sinners" after the Pulse nightclub shooting, has been found guilty of molesting a 15-year-old boy and girl at his church seven years ago. (Glynn County Jail photo)

Kenneth Adkins, a Georgia-based preacher and anti-gay activist who called homosexuals "sinners" after the Pulse nightclub shooting, has been found guilty of molesting a 15-year-old boy and girl at his church seven years ago. (Glynn County Jail photo)

Authorities in Orlando had barely finished identifying the 49 people shot to death at a local gay bar in June 2016 when Kenneth Adkins, a Georgia-based preacher and anti-gay activist, jumped into the fray.

"Dear Gays, Go sit down somewhere," he wrote in a Twitter message the day after the attack on the Pulse nightclub.

"I know y'all want some special attention," Adkins said. "Yall are sinners who need Jesus. This was an attack on America."

In a follow-up tweet - one Adkins would later contend was misinterpreted - he said homosexuals got "what they deserve."

On Monday, a jury in Brunswick, Georgia, found Adkins guilty of molesting a 15-year-old boy and girl at his church seven years ago, the Florida Times-Union reported.

After about an hour of deliberations, the jury of three men and nine women returned a guilty verdict on all eight charges in the case, which was filed two months after the Pulse shooting, according to local media.

Prosecutors said Adkins coaxed the two teens into having sex in front of him on numerous occasions, eventually joining them. The encounters reportedly took place in Adkins's church office, at the beach and in Adkins's car.

The jury convicted Adkins of two counts of aggravated child molestation, five counts of child molestation, and one count of enticing a child, according to News4Jax. Sentencing is scheduled for April 25.

A defense attorney for Adkins, Kevin Gough, said he would seek a new trial, arguing that prosecutors withheld key evidence. He told the Times-Union he was shocked by how quickly the jury reached its verdict.

"You never know what 12 people are going to do," Gough said.

Adkins became a church leader after serving a prison sentence for drug-related crimes in the late 1990s, as local media have reported. Though he is based in Southern Georgia, his church has congregations in Atlanta and Jacksonville.

In recent years, Adkins has helped lead a fight against expanding Jacksonville's anti-discrimination law to protect LGBT people. He ignited controversy in 2015 when he posted pictures on Twitter that compared other black church leaders who supported expanding the law to slaves being sold on auction blocks, according to the Times-Union. He also has argued against offering equal bathroom access to transgender people, saying sexual predators would use such measures to find victims.

In court, Adkins's male victim, now 22, testified that Adkins became a father figure to him after his grandfather died, according to News4Jax. But the relationship changed in 2010 when Adkins persuaded the teenager and his girlfriend to have sex in front of him.

"I respected him, like my dad. At that point I'd do anything to keep him around so he wouldn't leave me," the male victim testified, according to the Times-Union.

The female victim reportedly took the stand as well, but denied that anything improper had happened.

Adkins's defense attorney questioned the timeline of events in the case, suggesting that the male victim was 16, the age of consent in Georgia, when the molestation occurred, according to News4Jax.

Assistant District Attorney Katie Gropper contended that Adkins was a predator who took advantage of a vulnerable minor.

"This kid was struggling with balancing the good with the bad," Gropper said, according to News4Jax. She added sarcastically, "Adkins swooped in and saved the day."