Judge calls former church youth group leader Nathaniel Morales a 'cowardly pervert' before sentencing him to 40 years in prison

    Nathaniel Morales. (police mugshot)

    ROCKVILLE, Md. (WJLA) - A Montgomery County Circuit Court judge chastised a former youth group leader Thursday, calling him a "cowardly pervert" and "pathetic human being."

    Judge Terrance McGann sentenced Nathaniel Morales, 56, to 40 years in state prison for molesting at least four boys during the 1980s. The abuse occurred while Morales ministered at Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg.

    Then in his mid-20s, Morales led youth Bible studies, directed worship teams, and even attended sleepovers with the male teens he mentored. Morales' middle-of-the-night attacks went undetected for years, because he exuded trustworthiness and charm.

    Following what many described as a long-overdue sentencing, victim Jeremy Cook, now a married man with three children, spoke publicly.

    "This was not a one-time thing, there was a pattern. This is someone who won't change," Cook stated. "To see justice served, and to see a predator taken off the street, is worth all of this."

    Cook, who now resides in Raleigh, N.C., was only a teenager when Morales abused him around 50 times during church-related sleepovers.

    "He [Morales] acted as a predator. He found ways to get access to children and then abused them over the course of years," Cook added. "He was a chameleon."

    Shortly after police filed charges against Morales in July 2011, the self-proclaimed "man of God" told investigators he suffered from severe memory loss. The 56-year-old said his medical disability prevented him from recalling the period of time when the abuse occurred.

    "I find that to be utterly unthinkable," said Pam Plaisted, who had a short engagement to Morales during the late 1980s. "All of us who were there [in court] wanted to say, 'Come on! You really are not faking this!’"

    Judge McGann didn't buy what the former minister was preaching either, saying:

    "You can't even bring your despicable self to admit your crime. So, you hide behind your phony self-diagnosis of amnesia. Mr. Morales, you are one pathetic human being."

    Morales’ public defender, Alan Drew, asked Judge McGann for leniency, citing, among other items, a clinical study that found his client's chance of re-offending was, "low-to-moderate."

    "Even though he [Morales] doesn't remember any of these events, it's certainly had an impact on him," Drew stated. "He is now 56, and the likelihood of him committing other offenses of this character, I think, are rather small."

    "I don't believe your insatiable appetite for boys can be cured. Your wires are permanently twisted. Your conduct has had a profound and lasting deleterious effect," Judge McGann replied. "A long sentence is the only way to adequately punish you, protect society from you and deter other potential boy molesters."

    Morales, who remained stoic in court, with no show of emotion on his face, chose not to make a statement, or issue an apology to his victims seated a few feet away.

    "Here's someone who can't hurt anyone else again. He'll be put away, it protects others and that's the most important thing to me," Cook concluded.

    Cook and his fellow victims, now all grown men, are also upset with former church elders at Covenant Life Church who, investigators say, tried to cover-up Morales' sexual abuse for decades. Cook tells ABC 7 News their concealment is something they'll have to live with the rest of their lives.


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