A Georgia man who used to live in Berks County pleaded guilty Tuesday to charges related to the sexual assault and exploitation of two minors whom he met through the Jehovah’s Witnesses community in the 1990s, Pennsylvania Attorney General Michelle Henry announced.
Jesse Hill, 52, formerly of Perry Township, pleaded guilty in Berks County Court to two counts of felony rape. He was one of four men charged with sexual abuse of children in the Jehovah’s Witness congregations in October.
Henry said Hill is the first of more than a dozen men charged with child sexual assault crimes while they were members of Jehovah’s Witnesses congregations across the state.
Luis Manuel Ayala-Velasquez, 55, of Reading, is among another group of Jehovah’s Witness members charged with child sex abuse this month and is still awaiting trial. He is charged in an incident that happened in Bethlehem.
“Through this guilty plea, the defendant (Hill) admitted that he used his good standing within his religious community to access potential victims, gain their trust and then sexually assault them,” Henry said in a statement. “These crimes are abhorrent, and we are wholeheartedly committed to holding those accountable who hurt children. To any victims who have not yet disclosed their stories to law enforcement, I want you to know that if you speak up our office will listen.”
The investigation revealed that Hill used his milling business to attract young boys from his Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation to his property for parties in the 1990s. He promised the boys alcohol, marijuana and pornography, and relied upon his family’s trusted name within the religious community to gain the children’s trust, prosecutors said. At his house, Hill exposed himself to children, groped them and forced them to perform sex acts, prosecutors said.
The case was prosecuted by Chief Deputy Attorney General Christopher Jones.
Sentencing was deferred so Hill can undergo an evaluation by the Sexual Offenders Assessment Board, which will assist in determining if he meets the criteria for a sexually violent predator.