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Pastor indicted on federal charge

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A Wilson pastor and a volunteer youth baseball coach accused of sexual exploitation of a minor now faces a federal charge in connection to the case.

A Texas grand jury indicted 33-year-old Daniel Franklin Heath on one count of coercion and enticement of a minor, according to a unsealed federal indictment obtained by The Wilson Times. That indictment was handed down Wednesday. Heath, a former associate pastor of First Baptist Church in Wilson, was arrested a day earlier on the charge of first-degree sexual exploitation of a minor.

According to the Texas federal indictment, Heath used an LG model cellphone to “persuade, induce, entice and coerce,” a minor to “engage in sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of creating a visual depiction of such conduct, knowing that such depiction would transmitted in interstate and foreign commerce.”

Federal authorities say activity occurred from December of 2017 until April 11 of this year, according to the indictment out of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas Sherman Division. Heath could face 10 years to life in prison if convicted on the federal charge.

‘DEEP CONCERN’

Heath, who had been the church’s associate pastor for three years, was the youth pastor there for seven years prior to his resignation Tuesday.

Henry Skinner, First Baptist’s deacon board chairman, said Heath’s voluntary resignation was delivered Tuesday evening by his attorney as church officials were just becoming aware of his arrest.

Skinner told The Wilson Times on Friday the church wanted to convey “our deep concern for the victim or victims and their families in this matter.”

“We are keeping them, though unknown at this time, in our thoughts and prayers,” he said.

Heath was also a volunteer coach in the city’s youth baseball program.

“Due to the allegations pending, he will not be permitted to continue coaching,” said city of Wilson spokeswoman Rebecca Agner.

FIRST COURT APPEARANCE

Heath, clad in a orange jumpsuit, stood before District Court Judge Beth Freshwater-Smith as he made his first court appearance on a child pornography charge Friday. Freshwater-Smith read the arrest warrant aloud.

Heath’s arrest warrant in Wilson alleges that he did “encourage” a 16-year-old girl to “engage in sexual activity, perform sexual activities to herself for the purpose of producing material containing a visual representation depicting this activity, the defendant knowing the character and content of the performance and material.”

Church members were also seated inside the courtroom Friday.

Heath is currently being held on a $500,000 secured bond in the Wilson County Detention Center.

STATE AND FEDERAL

The Federal Bureau of Investigation contacted the Wilson Police Department in April regarding Heath, who was the subject of an ongoing investigation, officials have said.

On Tuesday, the police department’s FBI Task Force detective assisted FBI agents in executing a search warrant at Heath’s home in Wilson, according to officials. Based upon evidence gathered at the scene, authorities arrested and charged Heath on that same day.

The joint state and federal investigation is ongoing, officials said Thursday.

Heath has hired Will Farris of Farris & Farris as his defense attorney, according to court proceedings.

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