Thursday, July 27, 2023

First of Former Berks County Jehovah’s Witnesses Member Pleads Guilty to Child Sexual Assault Crimes

Pennsylvania Attorney General Michelle Henry announced Wednesday that Jesse Hill, a former member of Jehovah’s Witnesses from Berks County, who now resides in Georgia, has pleaded guilty to charges related to the sexual assault and exploitation of two minors. 

The assaults occurred during the 1990s when Hill was an active member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses community.

The 52-year-old defendant entered his guilty plea in Berks County Court to two counts of rape, both felonies of the first degree. While the sentencing has been deferred, Hill will undergo evaluation by the Sexual Offenders Assessment Board, tasked with determining whether he meets the criteria for a sexually violent predator.

Attorney General Henry addressed the media, stating, “Through this guilty plea, the defendant admitted that he used his good standing within his religious community to access potential victims, gain their trust, and then sexually assault them. These crimes are abhorrent, and we are wholeheartedly committed to holding those accountable who hurt children. To any victims who have not yet disclosed their stories to law enforcement, I want you to know that if you speak up, our office will listen.”

The investigation into the Jehovah’s Witnesses child sexual assault cases began in 2022. Utilizing the Statewide Investigating Grand Jury, investigators managed to secure presentments and charges against a total of 14 men alleged to have committed similar offenses while members of Jehovah’s Witnesses congregations across the state.

To support victims and family members affected by these distressing incidents, the Office of the Attorney General has established a dedicated hotline. Those seeking to provide information to investigators can call the hotline at 888-538-8541.

The details of Jesse Hill’s case revealed a disturbing pattern of abuse. He allegedly used his milling business as a guise to lure young boys from his Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation to his property for parties. Offering alcohol, marijuana, and pornography, Hill relied on his family's esteemed name within the religious community to gain the children’s trust. Subsequently, at his residence, he exposed himself to the vulnerable children, subjected them to groping, and coerced them into performing sexual acts.

Chief Deputy Attorney General Christopher Jones spearheaded the prosecution of this distressing case, vowing to bring justice to the victims and their families.

As the legal proceedings continue, authorities hope that this guilty plea will encourage other victims of similar abuses within religious communities to come forward and share their stories, helping to ensure that those responsible for such heinous acts are held accountable for their crimes.