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Ex-pastor faces more child sex offense charges

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SMITHFIELD — A former Johnston County pastor faces additional sex charges and the possibility of life in prison if he’s convicted of statutory rape.

Steve Morris, 61, was pastor of Oliver’s Grove Baptist Church in Four Oaks when he was arrested July 5 on allegations that he committed statutory rape and took indecent liberties with a 13-year-old girl. Authorities say the offenses occurred from December 2013 to May 2014.

The alleged victim reported the incidents to the Johnston County Sheriff’s Office in June. Morris was arrested at his Parkertown Road home in Four Oaks. He is now living in Smithfield.

In the four superseding indictments handed down Oct. 7 by a Johnston County grand jury, Morris is charged with six counts each of statutory rape/sexual offense and taking indecent liberties with a child.

A superseding indictment is a charging document that replaces a previous indictment. These documents are usually filed when new evidence warrants upgraded or additional charges.

The grand jury also handed down three new indictments against Morris for alleged incidents involving a woman and two underage girls.

In the new case, Morris is charged with one count of attempted first-degree exploitation of a minor. The indictments allege he tried to get two girls, both under age 16, to engage in sexual activity for a video.

He’s charged with one count of solicitation of another person to commit first-degree exploitation of a minor. This alleged incident occurred in 2008.

Morris is also charged with one count each of attempting to take indecent liberties with each girl in 2007.

Morris had been on house arrest since July. He received a $2 ½ million bond on the initial charges. On July 25, Superior Court Judge Henry Willis granted a bond reduction to $250,000.

Morris turned himself in on the new charges Oct. 9 and is being held in the Johnston County Detention Center on a $1 million secured bond. He had a first appearance in Johnston County Superior Court on Thursday. More than 20 people supporting accusers in the new case packed the courtroom.

At Morris’ hearing, Superior Court Judge Keith Gregory said statutory rape is a Class B1 felony and each count carries the maximum sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. The other charges against Morris each carry maximum sentences ranging from 5 years to 17 years.

Assistant District Attorney Paul Jackson said there’s a possibility additional charges may be filed.

Morris’ attorney Bob Denning told Gregory his client has abided by the conditions of his house arrest, moved from Four Oaks to Smithfield and willingly turned himself in.

Denning declined to pursue a bond reduction because he said he had just received the new indictments and wanted to make sure there was no conflict of interest between his law firm and the alleged victims before continuing as Morris’ attorney. Jackson said Denning is continuing to represent Morris.

Morris’ next scheduled court date is an administrative hearing on Nov. 4. A bond hearing could take place before that date.