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Judge Calls Former Youth Worker “Terrible Person” at Sex Sentencing

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Robert Shiflet, a former youth pastor who engaged in sex with teens in churches in Texas and Arkansas decades ago, was sentenced to 33 months in federal prison during an emotional hearing Tuesday. He also got an earful from the judge who was “flabbergasted” at the short sentence, but unable to impose longer confinement.

“You are a terrible person,” said U.S. District Judge Lee Rudofsky as he announced the sentence in an Arkansas courtroom. He also ordered Shiflet to spend the rest of his life under federal supervision once he is allowed out of prison.

Judge Rudofsky criticized Shiflet as he announced the sentence. “I don’t believe that you are sorry in the slightest. I don’t believe you have rehabilitated yourself. I believe you haven’t been caught again but I don’t believe you have rehabilitated yourself.

“I don’t think you are a good person and I don’t think you stand a chance of becoming a good person. If it was up to me and you had been found guilty after a trial, I would have sent you away for 25 years.”

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The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette summarized the charges:

The first incident occurred in 1997 when Shiflet, then a youth pastor in Denton, lured a 15-year-old girl away from her group during a camping trip near the Buffalo River in Arkansas and sexually assaulted her, authorities said.

The second incident happened in 2002 while Shiflet was a youth pastor in Little Rock, according to the indictment. During that incident, he had sexual contact with a 16-year-old girl during a charter bus ride to a church event in Panama City, Fla., according to the U.S. attorney’s office. Investigators said Shiflet continued to sexually abuse the same victim during the rest of 2002 and part of 2003.

The statutory maximum sentences for these crimes—10 years on one count and 15 years on the other—were unavailable to judge due to a miscalculation by prosecutors that led to a plea deal with a reduced sentence.

“This is a very difficult case in my view and a difficult call I’m going to have to make,” said the judge, who ordered that Shiflet serve the maximum possible sentence under the plea deal.

“I am extraordinarily concerned about this plea agreement,” Rudofsky said. “I’m not sure I’ve ever been as concerned about a recommendation the government has made.”

“I think you are dangerous,” Rudofsky said regarding the supervised release term. “I think you are a danger to the public, I think you are a danger to society, and I do not think you should have any room to do this again.”

Shiflet was arrested in 2020 and pled guilty in April.

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Steve Rabey

Steve Rabey is a veteran author and journalist who has published more than 50 books and 2,000 articles about religion, spirituality, and culture. He was an instructor at Fuller and Denver seminaries and the U.S. Air Force Academy. He and his wife Lois live in Colorado.