Crime

Pastor pleads not guilty to rape, molestation

A Fresno pastor accused of child molestation and rape pleaded not guilty Tuesday in Fresno County Superior Court.

Wearing a pin-striped suit, 36-year-old Bishop Charles Dickerson showed little emotion as he appeared briefly in front of a judge for his arraignment.

He later declined to comment.

Prosecutors say Dickerson, who leads Pearly Grove Baptist Church in southwest Fresno, faces four counts of lewd and lascivious acts against a minor, three counts of forcible rape and a count of lewd and lascivious acts with a minor 14 or 15 years old.

Dickerson's attorney, Glenn LoStracco, said the charges are a result of rumors generated by church politics and a messy separation Dickerson is going through with his wife.

"Life is very difficult for him," LoStracco said. "He's being very strong and continuing with his ministry."

Fresno police Lt. Dave Belluomini said a warrant for Dickerson's arrest was obtained Oct. 3 as a result of a police investigation that started June 26. He said he could not release details about the case or about the alleged victim or victims.

Dickerson was arrested in Seattle on Oct. 16 and extradited to Fresno two weeks later.

LoStracco said rumors Dickerson had fled north to escape arrest were untrue. He said the pastor was spending time in the Northwest attending a religious conference.

Dickerson was released on $400,000 bail and has returned to preaching at his church.

"When you're on a pulpit in front of a congregation, you're not hiding," LoStracco said.

Dickerson likely will face a preliminary hearing in January. A judge will then decide if his case should go to trial.

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