Former Thompson Pastor Gets 2 Years in Prison for Sex Crimes (W/VIDEO)
July 28, 2023 by Cassandra Shofar

An emotional Dennis Laferty expressed remorse and self-hatred for sexually abusing his two daughters as he awaited sentencing July 28 at the Geauga County Court of Common Pleas.

An emotional Dennis Laferty expressed remorse and self-hatred for sexually abusing his two daughters as he awaited sentencing July 28 at the Geauga County Court of Common Pleas.

Laferty, 37, of Tiro in Crawford County — a former pastor of Thompson United Methodist Church — pleaded guilty in June to two counts of gross sexual imposition involving one or more minors, a third-degree felony; and sexual imposition, a third-degree misdemeanor.

“There are no words that can begin to explain the guilt, shame, self-hate and remorse that I feel,” Laferty told Geauga County Common Pleas Judge David Ondrey. “Feelings that I fear will follow me even after death. I can’t say how sorry I am to my daughters and to my family for the hurt and harm that I have caused them. I have broken the most sacred of trust between a father and a daughter and I would do anything to be able to change that. I was the one who was supposed to protect them from this and I failed. Instead, I have scarred them in ways that I could never understand. Scars that they will carry inside for the rest of their lives. I pray that they will find it in their hearts to forgive me one day.”

Laferty said once his “sins” became public, he felt relief.

“This huge thing that I had been carrying, trying to live with and hide was finally out in the open, and I could talk about it and get help,” he told Ondrey. “I still don’t know how or why I allowed this to happen, but I have been working with therapists weekly … to try and understand it and ensure that it never happens again. And I believe that I am making progress. This is treatment that I hope to be able to continue.”

A Victim’s Voice

One of Laferty’s daughters, also one of his victims, approached the podium to speak in support of her father.

“Never in a million years did I think I would be standing before you telling you why I don’t want my dad to go to prison. Because never in a million years did I think this would happen,” she said. “So much has happened in the past six months. … And my dad has missed it all. In the beginning, I thought he deserved all of this for how much he hurt me and my sister and put us through, but now I believe he does not need to suffer as much as we have. I … believe he does not need to go to prison for a very long time. I believe if he does go, my mom will struggle more than she already has and she will lose everything.”

His daughter added so much has been taken from her family already.

“I believe his actions have consequences, but I don’t believe he deserves this. Deep down, he will always be my dad and he has always tried his best,” she said. “I have two sisters at home who don’t deserve to have their childhood robbed and not to have a dad there. They deserve to have things that I was not able to have. I don’t believe he should be taken and that my mom should struggle more than she already has. We have a family and don’t deserve to go through more than what we already have.”

Defense Pleads Case

Laferty called his crimes egregious, but added they are not in line with who he is or how he normally behaves.

“Your honor, I don’t dispute that I deserve to go to prison, however, I believe that if I went to jail, it would only make a bad situation worse. You’ve read the letters from my daughters and my wife. These are the victims and they do not want me to go to prison,” he told Ondrey. “Instead, they wish to reconcile and move forward. My wife is currently suffering from seizures as a result from having brain surgery and is unable to work. This means they would not be able to pay the mortgage, the car payment or any other bills and lose everything. I ask your honor to show mercy and not sentence me to prison.  And if this is your decision, I will continue therapy, I will get a job to support my family and I will do what is required to reconcile with my family, because that is what they want. And I will follow all orders of the court.”

Laferty’s attorney, Catherine Meehan, asked that in lieu of a prison sentence, the court place Laferty on a period of community control — arguing while there has been evidence of psychological harm, there was no physical harm; and asking the court to consider that Laferty has a “significant mental health” history; is a veteran of the U.S. Marines who has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorder; and, aside from a prior felony conviction 10 years ago that has since been expunged, Laferty has been a law-abiding citizen.
“The factors that would say he is likely to re-offend just aren’t present,” she said, adding other factors to consider are his ongoing treatment and progress, which are “the steps he is actively taking so that this never happens again.”
“He has genuine remorse. He’s embarrassed by what he did. He is ashamed of what he did. I think that he can prove to this court that this is something that is just going to be a blip in his life,” Meehan said. “This is not conduct he wants to continue moving forward. And he has been taking those active, positive steps, to initiate change within himself.”

Prosecutor Asks For Prison Time

However, Geauga County Assistant Prosecutor Christian Bondra saw Laferty’s crimes much differently, recommending a four-year prison term on each count of gross sexual imposition, served consecutively for a total of eight years.

“The state does feel the defendant’s conduct is more serious. It’s our position there was physical harm. We do feel that the digital penetration of a minor would constitute physical harm,” Bondra said. “Counseling services were engaged because of this incident, so the state believes that speaks to the psychological harm and impact to these victims, as well. We also feel the conduct was made more serious given the relationship. (These were) incidents that took place at home, that took place when father was going to pick these children up … there was a familial relationship there that led to and furthered these acts by the defendant.”

Bondra emphasized this was not just one incident with one child, but several incidents with more than one child.

“I would note that … the defendant’s own words of what happened was that he reached his hand into the pants of one of his children and into the pants of another one of his children. What the victims in this case shared was far more gruesome than that, was far more extensive than that,” he said. “That speaks to the defendant’s accountability for these actions, his remorse for these actions. While he sits here today and feels sorry for what he did, we don’t believe he’s still taking full accountability or fully believes everything he did was harmful to these children.”

Bondra acknowledged the letters submitted by the victims, but said it was “somewhat telling” to the state the letters did not really speak of forgiveness, but rather concern for the financial impact of Laferty’s imprisonment.

“The harm and impact to these children is going to continue far past today and into their adult lives. We do believe consecutive sentences are appropriate, your honor,” he concluded. “We believe this was a continuing course of conduct. It was two victims and several different occasions. We would ask the defendant be required to register as a Tier II sex offender.”

Sentence Delivered

Ondrey said he took into consideration Laferty having no prior conviction for offenses of this nature, his service in the marines leading to PTSD, his significant history of mental health challenges, his family’s expressed desire for him to return home as soon as possible, as well as the financial hardship Laferty’s absence would bring his family.

He also considered past sentences for similar offenses, particularly involving father-daughter situations.

The judge said while he does not have sufficient evidence to know whether the victims suffered serious psychological harm, he acknowledges they probably have.

“Lastly, I also have to consider the need for some significant punishment for behaviors that are deemed wholly unacceptable in our society, as you acknowledged today, taking advantage of your relationship with your children and ruining their innocence,” Ondrey said. “No doubt, destroying their faith in you as their father, at least for a period of time.”

Ondrey sentenced Laferty to two years in prison per felony charge running concurrently; a $2,500 fine on each count; 60 days in jail for the imposition count, served concurrently; and ordered post release control for five years. Laferty will also have to register as a Tier II sex offender for the next 25 years.

Staff writer Brian Doering contributed to this article.