AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A church pastor was sentenced to 26 years in prison Friday for severely beating a little boy with a tree branch after the child misbehaved during a summer Bible program.
The pastor's twin brother received a 14-year sentence for his role in the beating.
"Justice was served," prosecutor Beth Payan said.
Prosecutors had said Joshua and Caleb Thompson beat Louie Guerrero, then 11, so badly that he spent a week in intensive care facing the threat of kidney failure and needing a blood transfusion.
Guerrero, 12, and a doctor who treated him said he was hit at least 100 times. During the trial, jurors saw graphic photos of the boy's back with red and purple bruises and blood spots from scrapes or puncture wounds.
The brothers admitted the beating but disputed the blow count and its intensity. Joshua Thompson, the pastor, said Guerrero's parents had given him permission to punish the boy and that he did not intend to inflict serious injuries. Guerrero's parents, however, deny telling him he could hit their child.
The Thompsons, 23, had sought probation while prosecutors asked that they be sentenced to at least 30 years.
Defense attorneys said they would appeal the convictions.
Carlos Garcia, one of Caleb Thompson's attorneys, said the sentences did not surprise him. He worried about the Thompsons' safety in prison, fearing they will be targeted by other inmates because of their religious background and the nature of the crime.
"You never know what a jury is going to do," Garcia said. "It's a volatile subject matter. Was it justice? Only time will tell."
Joshua Thompson was ordered to serve 26 years for injury to a child and 20 years for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. The sentences will run concurrently and he could be eligible for parole in 13 years.
Caleb Thompson was sentenced to concurrent 14-year sentences on the same convictions, meaning he could be eligible for parole in seven years.
Caleb Thompson, who held Guerrero down while his brother beat him, said he was sorry for causing the boy's injuries. Joshua Thompson had said he planned to step down as a pastor at the church, even if he was able to remain free on probation. Joshua Thompson ministered to Spanish-speaking members at the fundamentalist Capitol City Baptist Church.