JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A former member of a North Jacksonville church connected to a case involving more than 30 years of sexual abuse pleaded not guilty Tuesday morning to two counts of sexual battery.
The State Attorney’s Office told Vernon Williamson, 86, that a conviction would mean life in prison.
Williamson used to be a member of the Assembly of the Body of Christ Church on Old Kings Road North and is accused of abusing children while he was there.
Paul Dyal, 78, pastor of the church, was arrested in March after a coordinated police raid at the church. He pleaded not guilty to his charges on April 5.
Dyal could also be sentenced to life in prison if convicted. He will be in court again on April 18.
Williamson is due back in court May 10.
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Police say the investigation into Dyal goes back more than 20 years and includes evidence for crimes they believe happened in the early 90s.
JSO got a tip about possible sexual abuse at the church in September 2020.
While investigators were making the arrest of Dyal, additional warrants were being served in Oklahoma. Jerome Teschendorf, 68, who was arrested in Newalla, Oklahoma, and Williamson, who was arrested in Ardmore, Oklahoma, were extradited to Jacksonville.
Teschendorf is also affiliated with Dyal’s church and is also facing two counts of sexual battery on a child.
Teschendorf is scheduled for arraignment next week.
“The investigation revealed both long-term sexual and physical abuse of minors in the church spanning a period of over thirty years,” the Sheriff’s Office said in its news release in March.
The Sheriff’s Office believes there could be more than a dozen victims.
JSO said that through the course of the investigation, the police “have identified and spoken to numerous victims and witnesses.” As a result, the Sheriff’s Office said, police believe there are additional suspects. It asked that anyone who believes they might have information to share to come forward by calling JSO or submitting an anonymous tip to Crime Stoppers of Northeast Florida.
Eight women have since shared their stories with News4JAX, saying they are survivors of mental, physical and emotional abuse from people at the Jacksonville Assembly of the Body of Christ Church.