First arrested in June on six charges of sexual abuse of a minor, former Ketchikan pastor and teacher Douglas Scott Edwards entered a guilty plea Wednesday afternoon in Ketchikan Superior Court.
As per the plea agreement, Edwards, 60, pleaded guilty to one consolidated count of sexual abuse of a minor in the second degree.
About two dozen people filled the courtroom as Superior Court Judge William B. Carey accepted the plea.
"What this does is consolidate all six into one conviction," said Carey. "However, (Edwards) is basically admitting the conduct in all of them."
Edwards also pleaded guilty to two aggravating factors recognized by Alaska statutes: his victim was 10 or more years younger than he, and the crime took place on school grounds.
The crime is a Class B sexual felony, which has a sentence of five to 15 years, but with the two aggravators, the maximum penalty extends to 99 years in prison and $100,000 fine, according to Alaska statutes.
However, the Criminal Rule 11 plea agreement between the prosecution and defense established a sentence of 18 years in prison with 12 years suspended, for a total of six years to serve. Edwards is eligible for time off for good behavior, which could reduce his time in prison to four years. He's also looking at 10 years of probation.
There was a moment of confusion in court about whether Edwards qualified for good time credit. Because the sexual felony was a Class B and not Class A, he is allowed good time, according to Alaska statutes.
Moreover, anyone convicted on one count of a sexual crime in Alaska is required to register as a sex offender for 15 years, if they are convicted on more than one count, they're required to register for their lifetime.
"Even though there's one conviction, the fact that multiple acts are consolidated into this makes the sexual registration lifetime instead of 15 years," Carey clarified with the defense lawyer Julie Willoughby.
Carey spent the better part of the hearing, about 20 minutes, making certain Edwards understood the rights he was giving up, including the right to appeal.
"If I accept your plea today," said Carey, "You'll have a felony conviction, as such you'll lose some important civil rights such as the right to vote, the right to hold public office, the right to possess a firearm, and you could be deemed ineligible for any number of governmental benefits by virtue of your conviction as a felon."
In the plea agreement dated Feb. 6 Douglas Scott Edwards signed off on a statement that read: "From the period between August to November 2017, under the guise of "hugging" (the victim) from behind or from the side, I knowingly placed my hand inside her shirt, underneath her bra, and rubbed or touched her bare breast. I engaged in this conduct at the Ketchikan High School, my home, and at the First Baptist Church of Ketchikan."
During this time the victim was about 14 or 15 years old. She and her mother listened to the hearing telephonically. As part of the plea deal Edwards is required to pay restitution to the victim in an amount to be determined.
Official sentencing for Edwards will be in Ketchikan Superior Court on April 18.
Before the court adjourned, Edwards was instructed to present himself to the Ketchikan Correctional Facility by 4:30 p.m.
"It's a statutory requirement that you —, upon conviction, are taken into custody, given the nature of your offense," said Carey.