URBANA — A former youth pastor at a Champaign church who admitted he sexually molested a teenage girl for four years, making her suicidal, scarring her family and his own, and injuring his church community was sentenced Thursday to 15 years in prison.
Roger VanRaden, 49, of rural Rantoul will have to serve just over 12 years of the sentence imposed by Judge Roger Webber. The number was right in the middle of what Assistant State’s Attorney Troy Lozar and defense attorney Evan Bruno of Urbana sought for VanRaden.
The sentence came after three hours of uncomfortable, detailed, depressing testimony from the now-20-year-old victim; her parents; the pastor of Faith Baptist Church, where VanRaden worked; the detective who investigated; and a pastor from another church who has counseled VanRaden since his arrest in late 2019.
Webber first addressed the victim, saying he was disturbed that she doesn’t believe professional counseling will help her deal with the four years of her adolescence stolen from her by a man she trusted. He encouraged her to seek help.
“I see every day the worst things our citizens do to each other. I must constantly remind myself that is not our community,” said Webber, his voice cracking with emotion. “You blame yourself because you are the one who told. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Mr. VanRaden has said so. This is all his fault. None of this is your fault.”
VanRaden pleaded guilty in February to two counts of criminal sexual assault, admitting that he committed different sex acts with the girl in 2016 and 2018. Two other sex-related counts were dismissed and Lozar agreed to seek no more than 23 years in prison for VanRaden, which he did. The maximum he could have received was 30 years. Bruno sought the minimum of eight years.
VanRaden was arrested in December 2019, not long after his victim came forward with information about the abuse she had suffered at his hands since 2015 when she was 14 and he was 44. He’s been out on bond since.
In the presence of his wife, parents and five of his six children, VanRaden made a four-minute-long statement in which he apologized to his victim for the “agony” he put her through, to her parents who “were so kind to me and my family,” to parishioners of Faith Baptist Church for violating their trust, and to his own wife and children for failing them.
“These things I committed were done because of the wickedness of my own heart. Do not blame the church,” VanRaden said.
To give Webber a broader picture of the effects of VanRaden’s criminality, Lozar had Bob Hassel, 30-year pastor of the church at 4601 N. Market St., testify.
Hassel hired VanRaden in 2014 as a music director and youth pastor, in charge of programs for youths ages 13 to 18.
When he learned from the girl’s parents on Dec. 7, 2019, what had happened, Hassel quickly fired VanRaden and second-guessed his decision to hire him five years earlier.
As an employee, Hassel said VanRaden “would blame everybody else. He was never wrong.” Hassel said he “had no clue” what was happening and that the molestation has caused anger and hurt among the congregation.
He also said no other church members came forward as victims.
The young woman’s father, a deacon in the church for years, said their family welcomed VanRaden’s family into their home and that they trusted him.
“It was an opportunity for someone to help support our belief system and be taught biblical truths, to keep (her) from falling into so many of the immoralities we see today,” he said.
He said in one instance, his wife was at a baby shower for VanRaden’s daughter held in the church, while VanRaden, he learned later, was upstairs in his office engaging in a sex act with his daughter.
“I want to emphasize just how incredibly betrayed our entire family feels,” the father testified. “It’s hard to find the words to describe it.”
His wife cried as she told the judge how their daughter went from a happy-go-lucky 14-year-old to a sad and depressed teen in just a year.
The mother found drawings her daughter made depicting different ways to kill herself.
When she and her husband confronted their daughter, she told them she “was going through rough times, and I just can’t talk about it right now.”
“We’ve struggled with the fact we didn’t see this. We could have helped our daughter. We had no clue,” she said through tears.
Champaign County sheriff’s investigator Dwayne Roelfs said on the day the young woman reported the allegations of abuse, he also talked to VanRaden, who immediately confessed to having a four-year relationship that included different sex acts that occurred mostly in his church office.
He admitted sending her emails and texts with sexually suggestive messages and photos and videos of himself engaged in sex acts, and that he had her do the same for him.
Roelfs said VanRaden “estimated 25 times” he had the girl perform oral sex on him.
But when it was her turn to testify, the young woman said “it was definitely more than 25.”
“It was about once a week except for months he totally ignored me to make me feel bad,” she said.
Under questioning by Lozar, she described the first time VanRaden rubbed her sides, then explained how his advances became more brazen and frequent and developed into full-blown acts of molestation and rape.
During the first year “after every time he did something, he would text me after: ‘I’m sorry, but it’s both of our faults. We need to work on this together,’” she recounted, adding that she was too scared to tell anyone.
The only gifts he ever gave her, she said, were sex toys that he wanted her to use in his presence, not flowers, cards or jewelry.
She was 15 or 16 when she began cutting her wrists every other week.
“That was the pain I thought I deserved, because Roger told me it was my fault,” she said.
“At 17, I did almost kill myself. I felt used and worthless even though I didn’t want to believe I was just a toy for him to play with,” she said, adding he never said he loved her.
She was 18 when she finally revealed what he had done to her.
“A friend of mine saw how much I was depressed,” she said. “He and his wife reached out and befriended me. I trusted them and told them, and they told me I needed to tell.”
She told Webber she no longer trusts people easily, and that she is pessimistic and does not show emotion as a result of years of living a secret.
“Every girl dreams about finding someone and getting married. Who knows if I’ll be able to do that,” she said.
Besides letters of support for VanRaden, Bruno had Albert Bennett, pastor of a Rantoul church that VanRaden has been attending since his arrest, testify about his counseling with VanRaden.
“He recognizes he has sinned against the Lord and (the victim) and her family,” Bennett said of his charge. “There was complete and utter brokenness. I believe he feels genuine remorse.”
As he was being taken to jail, VanRaden gave his wedding ring to Bruno, which the lawyer handed to VanRaden’s wife.