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Kennesaw city councilman pleads guilty to molesting 9-year-old boy | News

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Kennesaw city councilman pleads guilty to molesting 9-year-old boy

KENNESAW, Ga. (WXIA) -- A former Kennesaw mayor and current city council member charged with molesting a young boy entered a last minute plea.

Leonard Leroy Church, 67, cried when admitting in open court to molesting a 9-year-old boy back in June of 2014 and having 800 to 1,000 images of child pornography.

Judge Mary E. Staley sentenced him to 40 years in prison, with 18 years to serve.

Cobb District Attorney Vic Reynolds offered Church a plea deal in November to admit guilt -- get sentenced to 30 years, to serve 15.  Church then declined, but over the weekend before his trial was set to start, he contacted both his attorneys and the DA about pleading guilty.

"I wanted to make sure he had to admit guilt in open court," Reynolds said "It tells his young victim we believed his story and the courts believed his story and Mr. Church can never do this to another child."

Cobb County Police said the victim told his parents Church showed him pornography and then molested him in the suspect's Dreux Court home.

Next door neighbors say several Cobb County police officers showed up at Kennesaw City Councilman Leonard Church's home on Dreux Court around 1:30 or 2 a.m. Friday, June 27, ,2014 and spent some time there.

"I think everyone was really surprised," neighbor Celine Esmer told 11Alive.

"It's something we never really expected from him, especially because his grand kids are always here and, you know, he's a nice guy...so it was shocking," she added.

According to his biography on the city of Kennesaw website, Church was elected mayor in 1999 and served two terms. He was appointed to city council last year. He is also a real estate agent and owns his own business, Church Dental Prosthetics.

Church remained a city councilman despite the fact that many in the community including fellow council members had asked him to resign. His conviction effectively ends his term.

"This has been a very dark time for the citizens of Kennesaw," said fellow councilmember Cris Eaton-Welsh.  

 She said the council will operate without him until a special election is held in May to find someone new to fill his seat.

 "It is good to close this chapter and allow the new mayor and council to start fresh in January," said Eaton-Welsh.

Kennesaw Mayor Mark Matthews released a written statement late Monday afternoon that said

“Our thoughts and prayers are with anyone who may have been affected by the former Councilmember’s actions. With the announcement of Church’s plea from District Attorney Reynold’s office, a vacancy has been immediately created on our city council.  In accordance with state law and our city charter, a special election will be held in May to fill the vacant seat. As a city, we are closing this unfortunate chapter and moving forward.”

More information will be provided on the details of the Special Election in the coming weeks.

Church has six children and nine grandchildren.

If convicted of the original charges filed against him -- aggravated child molestation and four counts of sexual exploitation -- Church could have received a sentence of life in prison plus 100 years.

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