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Ex-priest gets 30 years in abuse

In the courtroom Monday, John Benton towered over the old man in the orange jail jumpsuit who wouldn't meet his gaze.

Thirty years earlier, Richard Pollard, then an Episcopal priest, had taken advantage of Benton, repeatedly molesting him as a young boy.

"You have raped and assaulted your last innocent victims," Benton told him Monday.

Pollard, 74, said nothing in response. Then Circuit Judge Jack Espinosa sentenced him to the maximum term, 30 years in prison.

"You violated the most sacred trust possible," the judge said before bailiffs led Pollard out of the courtroom.

For Benton, the day was bittersweet. He pumped his fists in joy when he heard the sentence, but seeing Pollard made him angry. He said afterward that he had come forward last year when he thought Pollard's actions might be swept under the carpet.

"I had to do something," said Benton, 39, who was abused from the age of 6 until he was 11. "This could not be ignored by the church."

Pollard, who is married and has three grown children, lived in New Port Richey at the time of his arrest last year. He served as vicar of St. Elizabeth's Episcopal Church in Zephyrhills from 1964 to 1969. He then served at St. Andrew's Church in Tampa before moving in 1974 to All Saints Episcopal Church in Tarpon Springs, where he served until his retirement in 1992.

The first allegation against Pollard arose in 1995. Pollard agreed to pay for counseling and never to serve as a priest again. Police, however, were not notified.

In June, Pollard was officially defrocked by the church after two other men came forward with allegations that he fondled them when they were teenagers in the 1970s. Pollard did not admit to wrongdoing when he renounced his orders, a church official said.

Benton, who had been an altar boy and sung in the choir, then went to the police and wore an electronic recording device to capture Pollard on tape admitting what he had done. Police arrested Pollard in August on eight sexual battery counts in two counties.

The abuse happened in Tampa and Tarpon Springs, both at Pollards' home and at the two churches in those cities. Pollard fondled the boys and had them perform oral sex on him, police said.

Pollard still faces charges in Pinellas County. In Tampa, he was sentenced under the 1970s statutes. He will have to serve about 12 years before becoming eligible for release. He suffers from heart trouble and has had triple bypass surgery.

"I don't think he will ever get out of prison," Benton said.

_ Graham Brink can be reached at 226-3365 or brinksptimes.com.

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