Former pastor enters not-guilty pleas on 2 felony charges

A trial date has been set for a former Columbus pastor facing two felonies involving a burglary he is accused of staging at his home.

A plea of not guilty was entered for Justin K. White, 38, 3255 Sunrise Drive, who appeared Thursday in Bartholomew Circuit Court for an initial hearing before Judge Kelly Benjamin.

The judge set White’s jury trial date for 8:30 a.m. Sept. 5, and a pre-trial hearing was set for 9:30 a.m. Aug. 7.

White listened as Benjamin read the charges against him, felony insurance fraud and contributing to the delinquency of a minor, which stem from a burglary White is accused of staging Dec. 18 at his Skyview Estates home. 

White is accused of filing an insurance claim for the burglary when he staged it to obtain money to pay a drug debt, court records state. The charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor relates to White begin accused of seeking to have a juvenile commit an act that would be a felony if committed by an adult, dealing in a narcotic drug.

About a dozen people watched the initial hearing in the court gallery. White and his attorney, Russell Johnson of Franklin, left the courtroom immediately after the hearing.

White was arrested at his home by Columbus Police detectives March 24 and was released from the Bartholomew County Jail the next day after posting $150,000 bond.

Court records indicate White has asked for a portion of his bond to be released to help him pay for attorney fees, although the motion to have that money released was not considered during Thursday’s court hearing.

Bartholomew County Prosecutor Bill Nash said it is common for a defendant to make a request to use a portion of their cash bond for attorney fees, especially when a high bond is set.

The former pastor at First Christian Church was given an extended leave of absence in July 2015 to deal with an opioid addiction that began after he was prescribed with pain medication from a doctor he was seeing for headaches, a church representative said.

The probable-cause affidavit for the charges against White states the former pastor overdosed on heroin on July 27, 2015, and police administered naloxone, a drug-overdose antidote, to revive him.

After that incident, White was treated at an addiction-treatment center in Minnesota, court records state. After returning to Columbus, he resumed his role as senior minister under requirements from the church which included counseling, random drug testing and monitoring by the elders, the church representative said.

White reported the Dec. 18 burglary to police saying he had been at church preaching when the incident occurred, court records state. White made an insurance claim seeking $11,460.75 in compensation for the items, court records state.

However, as detectives investigated, they found no signs of forced entry to the home and became suspicious regarding other factors in the burglary.

White advised church elders Dec. 24 that he was being accused by police of planning the robbery, church leaders told the congregation.

Because of the stress of the investigation and that White thought he was unjustly accused, the senior minister first turned to alcohol and then sustained a second drug overdose, the congregation was told, and White was placed on an indefinite leave of absence in mid-January.

White submitted his resignation as First Christian Church senior minister March 12, and it was accepted by church elders the next day, church representatives said.

 

What's next

A pre-trial hearing for former First Christian Church senior minister Justin K. White has been set for 9:30 a.m. Aug. 7, to be followed by a jury trial scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. Sept. 5 in Bartholomew Circuit Court.

White faces charges of felony insurance fraud and contributing to the delinquency of a minor, which stem from a burglary White is accused of staging Dec. 18 at his Skyview Estates home. 

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Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.