RUSTBURG — A judge ordered a six-year prison sentence Wednesday for a former youth pastor convicted last year of computer solicitation and indecent liberties with a minor.
The ruling affirms the jury’s recommended sentence against Major Lance Hillman, 23, who was found guilty of the felonies in Campbell County Circuit Court last November.
Hillman, of Lynchburg, was charged last year with the offenses after investigators said he solicited a 14-year-old girl attending a church where he volunteered.
Circuit Judge John T. Cook said in Wednesday’s hearing he saw no reason from evidence given by the defense to impose a lesser punishment than what the jury sought.
He said jurors already had heard about Hillman’s clean criminal record prior to the convictions, a point his lawyer, Cam Warren, had noted in asking for lenience. But the jury still had called for the six-year sentence, the judge said.
Hillman was charged about a year ago after the Campbell County Sheriff’s Office investigated his interactions with the eighth-grade girl. At the time, he was a volunteer youth pastor.
He was arrested last January and released on bond that was later revoked before trial. Hillman has been held in Blue Ridge since September.
Hillman was accused of using the messaging app Snapchat to communicate with the girl, including sexually explicit texts, photos and videos.
The girl involved, who reluctantly testified in last year’s trial, also took the stand Wednesday. She said she recognized Hillman had to take responsibility but still claimed partial fault even though she was a child.
“We were both wrong,” she said.
The girl’s mother, her voice breaking at times, testified her relationship with her daughter had changed completely and so had her trust of institutions as she wondered, “What other monster’s going to be out there?”
“I’ve seen the product of what a pedophile does, and the end result is scary,” she said.
Hillman expressed regret before being sentenced.
“I’m sorry for my indiscretion and illicit behavior,” he said. “I will bear the burden of this shame for the rest of my life.”
Warren noted to the judge Hillman never had been in trouble before the illegal communications with the girl, which only lasted a few days.
He also presented a stack of letters supporting Hillman’s character to the court and noted almost half the courtroom was filled with his supporters.
Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Jason Todd, who earlier called for a tough sentence of up to 40 years because he told jurors Hillman was “predatory,” urged the judge not to impose less than the six years.
The sentence is composed of five years of mandatory prison time on the solicitation charge and one year the jury determined for the indecent liberties charge.
Cook said he also may issue an order that allows for punishment if Hillman does not remain on good behavior after his release. Hillman will be listed on the sex offender registry.