Wednesday, September 6, 2023–9:52 a.m.
-John Bailey, Rome News-Tribune-
This story is possible because of a news-sharing agreement with the Rome News-Tribune. More information can be found at northwestgeorgianews.com.
The former youth minister of a Floyd County church faces up to 40 years in prison after entering a guilty plea to child molestation charges on Tuesday.
When Austin Wray Perkins was arrested on March 9, 2022, as part of a sting targeting child pornography, a release from the Floyd County Police Department stated that he was victimizing a minor who was living at his home and Perkins was also creating explicit videos.
Perkins, 26, pleaded guilty in a non-negotiated plea to one count of felony child molestation and one count of felony sexual exploitation of children in Floyd County Superior Court. Both charges carry the potential of 20 years in prison and each have a five-year mandatory minimum sentence.
Also, as part of those proceedings, Perkins waived his right to withdraw his guilty plea.
“Do you understand that your sentence will be left to the court without a negotiated sentence to be recommended,” Floyd County Superior Court Chief Judge John “Jack” Niedrach asked.
“Yes sir,” Perkins replied.
According to a police statement at the time of his arrest, Perkins took the child — who had no family or support — into his home and molested him. Perkins also coached the child about how to act in pornographic videos with himself. During that time, Perkins was also a youth minister at Grace Fellowship Baptist Church.
During the hearing, Judge Niedrach confirmed that Perkins had completed a psychosexual evaluation and stated that his sentencing will be scheduled once the evaluation is available. Perkins will remain in jail pending that sentencing.
His arrest came as part of a two-day investigation involving federal, state and local law enforcement — a partnership between the Floyd County Police Department, GBI and U.S. Secret Service Cyber Crime Taskforce which included two investigators from the Cobb County Police Department.
U.S. Secret Service Special Agent in Charge Steven R. Baisel said during a press conference in 2022 that five terabytes of data, potentially millions of files of child pornography, were confiscated.
Along with Perkins, six others were arrested and charged in the sting:
Tyler Antonio Johnson was convicted of sending sexually explicit images of several minors to other people over a social media app and was sentenced to 15 years, to serve eight in prison.
The case against Jackie Steve Autry, who is charged with felony sexual exploitation of children and possession of controlled substances, is unresolved.
Richard Alan Castleman was arrested on another charge in June and remains in jail on $2,600 bond. His case concerning felony computer pornography remains in limbo pending a mental evaluation to determine his competency to stand trial.
Jason Michael Gass awaits a jury trial on accusations that he used a social media app to receive and exchange several files of child sexual abuse, as well as drug charges.
Joab Hayden Stewart was sentenced to 10 years, to serve five in prison, after a jury trial and conviction on sexual exploitation of children charges.
The seventh person arrested in the investigation was a 16-year-old juvenile. Their personal information and charges have not been released.