NEWPORT—The former pastor of CrossWay Worship Center accused of statutory rape by an authority figure pleaded guilty to the charges in Cocke County court on Tuesday.

James Ronald “Ronnie” Messer, 48, pastored the Newport church located at West Highway 25/70. The incident occurred between Messer and a 17-year-old girl who attended the church.

According to police reports, in July 2018 Messer picked the teen up at her place of employment and took her to the church. The victim told police that she and Messer entered the church through a rear door.

Upon entering the church, Messer asked the victim three or four times to remove her clothes. The victim refused at first, and reported she was scared but eventually discarded her clothing. At that point, the victim said she and Messer had sexual intercourse.

Detective Jason Ramsey reported that the victim told her family immediately upon returning home. When Ramsey spoke with Messer, he admitted to having sexual intercourse with the victim but said it was consensual.

Messer was charged with aggravated sexual battery by an authority figure, statutory rape by an authority figure, rape and aggravated statutory rape.

In a plea agreement Messer pleaded guilty to statutory rape by an authority figure, but the other three counts were dismissed. Judge Carter Moore sentenced Messer to to eight years, with no parole until at least 30 percent of the term has been served.

Messer will also be on extended probation and is required to register as a sex offender. Judge Moore ordered Messer to have no contact with the victim or her family.

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