An ordained minister convicted of child molestation earlier this year was sentenced Thursday to serve 12 years in prison.
Walter W. Underwood Jr., 60, and his family asked the judge for mercy. Underwood could have faced as much as 40 years in prison.
In January, a Richmond County Superior Court jury convicted Underwood of molesting an 8-year-old girl several years ago. Criminal charges were only recently brought against Underwood when the girl, now a teen, broke her silence. After she came forward a second victim reported she had been similarly victimized by Underwood a decade earlier.
The teen told the jury how she would hide in the bathroom to try to keep away from Underwood when he baby-sat for her family, Assistant District Attorney Melissa Marks said Thursday. One count of child molestation was for what the victim described as attempted rape, and the second was for one of the multiple times that Underwood touched and kissed her inappropriately.
Underwood’s family members told the judge that he was a good man, good father and beloved grandfather. They expressed their concerns Underwood wouldn’t be able to survive a prison term.
Defense attorney Clayton Jolly asked Judge J. David Roper to consider all the good Underwood had done in his life and his serious health problems.
Underwood coached a girls softball team and took children to camp. He taught Sunday school for years before becoming ordained in 2008, Jolly told the jury in January.
On behalf of the teen, her mother told Roper she wasn’t asking for the maximum or conceding to the minimum sentence possible. She only wanted justice, she said.
“(Underwood) robbed her of her childhood and her innocence,” she said.