AUSTIN – A church pastor admitted today that he struck a Bible studies student several times across the back with a stick, but denied he delivered the 100 blows the victim said he suffered.
“I was totally, totally, totally, totally wrong,” Joshua Thompson said, “to take a little child and strike him on the back.”
Thompson, 23, and his twin brother, Caleb, are on trial in the beating of Louie Guerrero. The boy, now 12, spent a week in intensive care with kidney failure and needed a blood transfusion.
The brothers face felony charges of serious injury to a child and aggravated assault. If convicted, their sentences range from probation to life in prison.
Joshua Thompson was the pastor of the Spanish-speaking congregation at the fundamentalist Capitol City Baptist Church, where the boy was attending summer Bible camp in July 2002.
Taking the stand in his own defense, Joshua Thompson said the boy’s parents had given him permission to discipline their son but that he was scared to do it after Guerrero acted up during a camp activity.
Nevertheless, he said he knowingly violated church policy against corporal punishment for students and that he and his brother took Guerrero to Caleb Thompson’s house.
Joshua Thompson said he cut a switch from a bush, clipped off the twigs and leaves, and struck Guerrero several times while the boy laid on a bed and Caleb Thompson held his arms. The switch was about two feet long and the width of his ring finger, Joshua Thompson said.
Joshua Thompson said they were at the house about 10 or 15 minutes and that he didn’t know how many times he hit Guerrero. But he disputed the boy’s testimony that it was as many as 100 times.
“I did not strike him 100 times,” he said. “I really don’t know how many times I hit him. The first couple of swats I don’t believe he cried, but then he started to cry. … When Louie started crying, I started crying. “
Joshua Thompson, who has no children, said he had never before physically disciplined a child. He said he did it that day because that’s what he thought the boy’s parents wanted. He said he had asked his brother to come to the house to be a witness.
He said the three prayed before leaving the house to go back to the church, asking God to help Guerrero end his disruptive behavior. The boy had been expelled from the church school several months earlier.
Guerrero testified earlier that the beating lasted longer that an hour and that Joshua Thompson used two tree branches, forcing him to pick up the pieces of the first one when it disintegrated. He said Joshua Thompson told him the beating was to “get the devil out” of him.
Joshua Thompson said the boy appeared normal after the punishment was finished and that he saw no signs of injury. Jurors last week saw graphic photos with red and purple marks across most of the boy’s back and blood splotches that appeared to come from scrapes and puncture wounds.
Guerrero’s family members have said they did not give anyone outside the family permission to physically discipline they boy and that they called 911 after discovering his injuries
Although Joshua Thompson admitted striking the boy, defense attorneys have suggested the most serious injuries were caused by someone else.