Former youth minister and church leader sentenced for sexual abuse of child he took in to help


Austin Wray Perkins appears in a booking photo

Austin Wray Perkins appears in a booking photo in 2022. (Floyd County Police Department)

A now-former youth minister will spend well over a decade in a Georgia state prison after his conviction and sentencing on various charges related to the production of child pornography.

In September, Austin Wray Perkins, 27, pleaded guilty to three counts of aggravated child molestation, child molestation, possession or control of any material depicting the minor in a sexual context and employing/using the minor to engage in or assist a person in sex.

Last year, at the time of the since-admitted child abuse, the defendant served as the youth minister of the Grace Fellowship Baptist Church in Floyd County — which is in the far northwestern part of the Peach State, a few miles east of the Alabama border.

In March 2022, the Floyd County Police Department served warrants at 21 locations over two days in the Rome and Cave Spring areas termed “Operation Spring Cleaning,” according to Atlanta-based ABC affiliate WSB-TV. Those sweeps netted seven arrests after reports of suspicious online activity, including sharing child pornography, police claimed. Perkins was among the men — most of whom were in their 20s — arrested.

Police also rescued a child from one of the locations where some of the child sexual abuse material was being produced. Perkins was accused of orchestrating at least some of that content.

“The child had no family or support and had been taken in by (Perkins) for care,” Floyd County Police Sgt. Chris Fincher said in comments reported by Coosa Valley News. “The juvenile who was rescued by police was living with (Perkins) who was coaching the child about how to act in videos and also engaging in acts of child molestation.”

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According to police, all of the other men arrested in the sting operation were found to be in possession of child pornography. Those files were being stored locally and distributed worldwide.

“If you printed out on paper one terabyte, you could fill the back of a semi truck,” U.S. Secret Service Special Agent in Charge of the agency’s Atlanta field office Steve Baisel told WSB-TV.

Law enforcement reiterated the sadness and severity of what the youth minister did to the child he was supposed to help.

“He was directed in what to do and actions to take,” Fincher told WSB-TV. “That’s what makes this such an egregious crime.”

In an interview with the TV station, Perkins’ mother, Kelly Bishop, tearfully recounted her son’s earlier life.

“He’s been a leader of his church,” Bishop said. “Always. I would hope nobody believes this because the church has always had him taking care of all this.”

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Perkins was sentenced to 15 years in prison this week. That sentence will also include 25 years of probation, WSB-TV reported.

“After officers were able to get into both phones completely, we’re talking about hundreds of images,” Floyd County Assistant District Attorney Leah Mayo told Floyd County Superior Court Chief Judge John “Jack” Niedrachm, according to a courtroom report by Rome-based radio station WRGA. “There are some images of infants under a year old (being subjected to sexual abuse). It’s a horrific, extensive, extremely exploitative and disturbing collection of child pornography.”

The child has since been reunited with his father.

“I know my son will never be the same from the hell Austin has put him through,” the boy’s father said in a victim impact statement read by the prosecutor during sentencing on Friday.

To try to mitigate the severity of his punishment, Perkins’ defense attorney, Radford Bunker, noted his client was sexually and physically abused as a child, saying that led him to make confused decisions about taking care of a child.

“This report shows that terrible things have happened to him, but he is treatable,” Bunker said, according to WRGA. “It’s because of what happened to him that he is not able to see these things clearly and correctly.”

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