Banker signs plea agreement
The case of a former Fort Scott church employee facing charges for alleged sex crimes has been set over for a plea hearing Dec. 8.
During a felony arraignment and plea hearing Friday in Bourbon County District Court, defense attorney Christopher Meek of Baxter Springs told Bourbon County District Chief Judge Amy Harth the defense wished to waive a preliminary hearing and schedule an arraignment date. A plea agreement was also signed, the details of which have not yet been made public.
Meek is representing Joseph Wayne Banker, a former employee of Community Christian Church who faces charges for alleged sex crimes that took place in 2009 in Bourbon County.
During the hearing, Banker waived his right to a preliminary hearing, and Harth confirmed with Banker that he knew what it means to waive his right to a preliminary hearing. Banker said he wished to waive his right to a preliminary hearing.
“It’s (preliminary hearing) to hear evidence to send the case to trial,” Harth told Banker. “If you give up that right, you can’t do that.”
Harth also confirmed with Banker that he had discussed his options with his attorney.
In the Sixth Judicial District, arraignment is the term used for the time the defendant appears in court to enter a plea. In criminal felony cases, the arraignment does not occur until a preliminary hearing has been held or waived and the defendant is bound over for arraignment.
Bourbon County Attorney Justin Meeks, one of the prosecutors in the case, told the Tribune the defendant waived his right to a preliminary hearing and signed the plea agreement Friday in front of Judge Harth. Waiving the preliminary hearing means the case was set over for arraignment and a formal plea at the next hearing, Meeks said.
Meeks said the state had originally planned to ask for a continuance in the case as one of the alleged victims could not be present Friday, but that did not occur due to that circumstance and the plea agreement.
After a discussion between Harth and attorneys in the case, a plea hearing was set for 1:15 p.m. Friday, Dec. 8. Harth ordered Banker to appear at the hearing. Meeks said the terms of the plea agreement should be discussed at that hearing.
During a bond first appearance for Banker in July, the case was set over for a “no go” preliminary hearing Sept. 18, which is a status conference held to determine how the case will proceed, and whether a preliminary hearing will be held or waived.
At the Sept. 18 hearing, Meek requested a date to waive a preliminary hearing, as well as for arraignment and plea in the case, and the Nov. 17 proceeding was set.
At the first appearance hearing, Bourbon County District Magistrate Judge Valorie Leblanc read the release conditions for Banker, who was arrested May 12 in Oklahoma and released May 19 on a $100,000 bond. Leblanc informed Banker he is not to have contact with anyone under 18 years of age unless it is a family member, to not use drugs or alcohol and to have no contact with the alleged victims or witnesses.
On Friday, May 12, the Norman Police Department in Cleveland County, Oklahoma arrested Banker on a Bourbon County arrest warrant charging him with one count each of electronic solicitation and sexual battery, and two counts of sexual exploitation of a child. Banker had been held in Cleveland County prior to being extradited to Bourbon County. The arrest warrant was the result of an investigation conducted by the Fort Scott Police Department.
According to a March 2007 Tribune story, Banker became the youth minister at Community Christian Church on Feb. 19, 2007. Banker and his family moved to Fort Scott from Oklahoma City, Okla., where he had served as a youth minister at a church there.
The Tribune was unable to confirm when or how Banker left the position, as well as details on where Banker was living and working after leaving Community Christian Church. In May, a church staff member declined comment but provided a written statement to the Tribune.
Court records show the defendant does not have a criminal history.
Banker has been charged with one count of electronic solicitation of a child, a severity level 3 person felony; two counts of sexual exploitation of a child, a severity level 5 person felony; and one count of sexual battery, a class A person misdemeanor. According to the criminal complaint, the alleged crimes took place between August and December 2009.