Jack Schaap, the former pastor of First Baptist Church of Hammond, is continuing his fight to have his 12-year prison sentence overturned for having sex with an underage parishioner.
His new attorney, Charles A. Murray, of Bonita Springs, Fla., filed several documents Monday in U.S. District Court in Hammond arguing that Schaap’s former attorneys not only failed to adequately defend him after he had pleaded guilty but also lied to him before he did so.
The former pastor gave up most of his rights to appeal his sentence when he agreed to a plea deal with prosecutors but argues now that his constitutional right to effective counsel was violated.
Schaap claims in the filings that his former attorneys, Paul Stracci and Alison Benjamin, told Schaap that the most he would serve if he pleaded guilty was 10 years in prison and that he possibly could serve as little as 18 months.
Stracci declined to comment on the filings.
The charge Schaap pleaded guilty to, causing a minor to be transported across state lines for sex, actually comes with a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison up to life, a fact that U.S. District Judge Rudy Lozano stated during Schaap’s change of plea hearing in September 2012.
“Yet using (Stracci’s) alleged knowledge of the law, defense counsel led the petitioner to believe that such a low sentence was possible, thereby inducing a guilty plea that was invalidly entered and would otherwise have not been entered,” Murray says in one of his filings.
His agreement with the government called for federal attorneys to ask that he serve 10 years in prison, although that was not a binding part of the deal. Lozano also questioned Schaap during that hearing as to whether anyone had made any other promises than those in the plea agreement to him. Schaap at the time said no.
Lozano eventually disagreed with the government’s request and sentenced Schaap to 12 years in prison, which was two years less than the minimum of what federal sentencing guidelines recommended.
The new filings also claim that Stracci failed Schaap by not arguing that the victim — a girl known only as Jane Doe — who was 16 in the summer of 2012, pursued Schaap and acted as the aggressor.
“No doubt exists that the petitioner should have resisted Doe’s advances, but the petitioner submits that his actions did not serve to destroy Doe in the manner that often occurs when underage individuals are victimized. …”
Murray argued that the girl had previous sexual experience and drank alcohol and smoked marijuana, which he claims make Schaap not fully culpable for his crime.
The girl was a student at the church’s school before she was expelled because she had sexual relationship with her boyfriend. Schaap, who was principal of the school, was assigned to counsel her, which is when their relationship started.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jill Koster argued during Schaap’s sentencing hearing that one school official wrote at the time that the girl was in a fragile state and was told to put all her trust in Schaap.
The government also presented letters from Schaap to the victim, in which he told her their relationship was desired by God and that he was helping to save her.
Schaap is asking to have a hearing on his motion.