Currently The Leader's managing editor, Echo Day is an 11-year veteran of the paper.

Former Atoka pastor Ronnie Gorton and his father, Bob, embraced in the hallway before walking in to listen to the verdict. 

As each guilty verdict was read – two counts of exploitation of a minor, two counts of contributing to a minor, two counts of furnishing alcohol to minors, seven counts of sexual battery by an authority figure, 10 counts of statutory rape by an authority figure and the continual abuse of a child – his former best friend Wesley Edwards cried from the gallery. 

Gorton, as he had during the entirety of the trial, remained emotionless until after the last one was read by the foreman, then he rested his chin on his praying hands. 

He left the courtroom from the back door, towards the jail, where he will stay until he is sentenced on Nov. 8.

“We’re very thankful for the verdict and the jury made it clear to the community that child sexual abuse will not be tolerated in Tipton County,” said district attorney general Mark Davidson. 

‘Please don’t do that to me ...’

Ballin cut right to the chase when Gorton took the stand Wednesday. 

“I’m going to ask you the question everybody wants to hear you answer: Did you molest [the victim]?” 

“Absolutely not,” Gorton said before going on to answering questions about his background and the state of his now-failed marriage.

Much of his two-hour testimony was centered on why he slept in the victim’s bed, suggesting the victim was in “a dark place” and talked about suicide after his mother was arrested.

“He could not handle the thought of being alone,” he said. “[The victim] was extremely clingy. He had to follow me wherever I went. He chose to be with me, even on weekends when it wasn’t a school night.”

Assistant district attorney Walt Freeland called the upstairs area where the two spent their time a “chamber of horrors” because of the graphic nature of the abuse.

Even on vacation Gorton chose to sleep with the victim instead of sleeping on the couch because, he said, he was asked to.

 “He would ask me, or make those comments, ‘… Please don’t do that to me,’” Gorton testified. 

The former pastor admitted to providing his victim, and other teenagers, beer mixed with whiskey and marijuana on several occasions. 

“Did you feel no obligation as the shepherd of the flock to take care of your flock?” Freeland asked. 

“In that area I failed,” Gorton responded.

 

‘I’ve lost everything’

Gorton finally showed emotion Wednesday when he talked about his dogs and his life since the accusations were made.

“My life has been a living hell for the past 19 months,” he said, choking up. “I’ve lost everything, friends, family, I’ve lost it all. All I know to do is turn to God.”

Gorton testified he’s done a lot of praying, including for the teenager who accused him of molesting and raping him.

He said he didn’t show emotion because he tried to keep himself composed, even with witnesses sobbing on the stand, then suggested the victim lied. 

“He couldn’t even tell the truth about the good days we had. I couldn’t understand that. He was extremely happy … I was thinking I’d leave with closure, but I didn’t get it.” 

The anger from his victim, he said, he hasn’t seen in years, but he was glad he has fond memories of the dogs. 

Gorton referenced the victim’s testimony from the day before where, as an aside while identifying photos, he’d mentioned missing them and cried as he shared he told the dogs about it. 

“I went home last night and told Bullet and Bubby he missed him.”

Ballin asked Gorton if he knew why the victims would make the accusations. 

“I have wracked my brain and I have done a lot of trying to investigate myself. I know [the victim] was easily persuaded by a certain individual and they had reached the point in my life where they had lost respect for me.”

Gorton also choked up several times as he shared being hurt over his wife and his best friend talking behind his back.

“You’re a professional speaker,” Freeland told him, “and you try to convince people to believe things.”

“The Holy Spirit does the convincing,” Gorton answered. 

“When you turned on the tears, it was just about your life ... you’re trying to convince this jury you’re something you’re not.” 

The jury was not convinced however, returning its verdict in an hour and a half. 

 

What’s next?

There are still two more trials and neither will begin before 2020. 

Gorton was booked into the Tipton County Jail immediately and will await his Nov. 8 sentencing from behind bars. 

It is not known whether he’ll be on suicide watch.

“I am pleased that the jury listened, they took their time to consider the proof, that’s all you can really ask for in cases like this,” Ballin said. “You’re obviously disappointed, but respect their decision. Any time you have more than one person saying the same thing it becomes an uphill battle, but you still have to believe in the system.”

With so many charges, it's difficult to calculate how much time he could be facing in prison. 

Davidson said the conviction was gratifying for the victims who’ve suffered as a result of Gorton’s actions. 

“He’s a ravenous wolf in sheep’s clothing,” Freeland said. “As the shepherd of a flock he didn’t pray for the flock, he preyed on the flock.” 

Echo Day is The Leader's managing editor. To contact her, call 901-476-7116 or email eday@covingtonleader.com.

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