Tony Waller gets life in prison for rape

Children's pastor sentenced to life
Waller walking to a courtroom in May 2015 (Source: KAIT)
Waller walking to a courtroom in May 2015 (Source: KAIT)

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - Anthony "Tony" Waller will spend life in prison for two counts of rape.

The bench trial for a former children's pastor began Tuesday.

Waller is accused of raping two girls along with possessing thousands of pornographic images depicting children.

He changed his plea to guilty Tuesday morning, but the trial still moved forward to the sentencing stage.

"As we went into the sentencing portion of the trial we still called several witnesses because we wanted the judge to understand the gravity of what exactly Waller had done to these children," Second Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney Scott Ellington said.

Waller had worked at the Jonesboro First Assembly of God and was a school bus driver for Jonesboro Public Schools. Following his arrest in May 2015, Waller was fired from the church and resigned from driving a bus.

During courtroom proceedings on Tuesday, a Jonesboro police detective was called to describe the investigation and interview with Waller.

The detective said police found over 400,000 child porn images on a hard drive belonging to Waller. More images were also found on a laptop.

Officers also found several videos of children in the church's bathroom. Investigators also found several holes believed to be used for cameras.

Other videos were found showing young girls at a house across from the church and owned by the church.

Waller was asked in an interview by Jonesboro police why he was attracted to younger girls.

He reportedly told police he liked a 12-year-old girl when he was a boy. Around this time he was also first introduced to pornography.

When he was sent off to an all-boys school, he told police he held onto that attraction.

During the interview, a detective asked Waller if he ever uploaded or shared the child porn images and videos.

Waller told police, "No, it was dangerous enough what I was already doing."

After recess a relative of two of the victims took the stand and described the day she found out Waller had been molesting the girls.

The witness's testimony brought several people in the courtroom to tears.

One of the victims chose to take the stand as well and gave one short statement.

The victim looked Waller in the eyes and said "I forgive you, I love you and I pray for you,"

The statement brought most people in the courtroom to tears, along with Waller who could be heard across the court sobbing.

The state did not call any more witnesses to the stand after the victim's testimony.

Tony Waller decided to take the stand for the defense.

During Waller's testimony he continually apologized for his actions and said he had an addiction.

Waller said he tried to stop multiple times but fear kept him from coming clean and getting help.

He told the people in the courtroom he was sorry for betraying their trust as pastor and a friend and all he asks for is forgiveness.

He also told the judge he had been seeking help for his addiction.

The prosecutor then got a chance to cross examine Waller.

During the questioning, the prosecutor asked Waller if he believes the help he received has cured his addiction and Waller said yes.

The prosecutor asked why he did not get help sooner and Waller stated he felt like he had no place to go without his world turning upside down.

In closing the prosecutor stated Waller made these choices to rape and molest young girls, and called Waller deceiving.

The prosecutor asked for life in prison for Waller's crimes.

Waller's attorney closed asking for a a lesser sentence. He asked for at least 20 years in prison but not life.

Second Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney Scott Ellington closed for the state saying Waller was a predator.

"Anthony Waller is a predator he does not need to ever be released from prison," Ellington said.

He said although Waller did plead guilty to his charges he never admitted anything until he was caught by someone.

Judge Brent Davis came back with a sentence of life in prison on two separate counts of rape.

Davis said there was not enough evidence to convince the court Waller had an addiction.

He said Waller used his position in a devious manner that only satisfied his personal desires with no regard to the children.

Davis also said he is not convinced Waller's tendencies will end even with the recent help and he is concerned with future damages to kids.

Region 8 News spoke with Ellington after the trial about the sentencing.

Ellington said the state did not want anything less than life so they were pleased with the outcome.

He commended the witness and victims who came forward to make the sentencing possible.

"We appreciate the folks that stood with the victims and we appreciate the victims' willingness to be present. It is a sad situation but we are satisfied with the outcome," Ellington said.

He also said Waller is facing a separate charge of voyeurism which will be reviewed.

"In this particular case there is still voyeurism charges pending so we will weigh that and decide how to proceed on those cases. With two life sentences being handed down he does have an appeal process so we will see how that transpires in the next 30 days as well," Ellington said.

?Copyright 2016 KAIT. All rights reserved.

Watch Region 8 News On Demand: On your Desktop | On your Mobile device

Region 8 News App - Install or update on your: iPhone | Android