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87-Year-Old Man Associated with Florida Church Gets Life in Prison for Sexually Abusing Girl

By Josh Shepherd
vernon williamson
Vernon Williamson, 87, of Jacksonville, Florida, has been sentenced to four consecutive life sentences for sex crimes against a minor. (Photo: Jacksonville Sheriff's Office)

An 87-year-old man associated with a Florida church has been sentenced to life in prison for sexually abusing a young girl repeatedly over several years. 

On Thursday, a jury in Duval County, Florida, found Vernon Williamson guilty of four felony counts of sexual battery, and Judge Mark Borello sentenced him to four consecutive life sentences.

According to authorities, Williamson was the landlord of the Jacksonville Assembly of the Body of Christ in Jacksonville, Florida. And from 1996—1999, Williamson sexually assaulted a girl “less than 12 years of age” while she was in his care at the church.

Court records indicate Williamson has been a decades-long friend of founding pastor Paul Dyal, 80, who has also been charged with sex crimes against children. Dyal and Jerome Teschendorf, 70, a church member who served as a volunteer youth leader, are awaiting trial on charges of capital sexual battery. 

The sentencing of Williamson stems from a multi-year, multi-agency investigation of the Jacksonville church.

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jacksonville assembly williamson
Jacksonville Assembly of
the Body of Christ in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo: Google Maps)

A tip in September 2020 about possible sexual abuse prompted an investigation led by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Special Assault Unit, which also involved the U.S. Marshals and State Attorney’s Office.

It “revealed both long-term sexual and physical abuse of minors in the church spanning a period of over thirty years,” stated a press release from authorities.

On March 9, 2022, Williamson was arrested in Ardmore, Oklahoma, and “charged with capital sexual battery,” court records confirmed. 

The same day, police interrupted a mid-week service at Jacksonville Assembly of the Body of Christ, brought Dyal in for questioning, and arrested him, according to media reports

Two years ago, eight women came forward to local news outlet WJXT and shared their experiences of abuse linked to the Jacksonville church.

One of the survivors, Lisa Stroud, recounted physical abuse by multiple men at the church when she was a minor. “Oppression doesn’t seem like oppression if it’s really all you’ve ever known,” Stroud told local media. 

In 2004, one of the victims disclosed incidents of abuse to Dyal, but the pastor “did not believe her,” according to the arrest report in Williamson’s case. The report added: “(Dyal) permitted the suspect to stay in the Church and continue to have access to multiple children.” 

The website for Jacksonville Assembly of the Body of Christ has not been active for over a year. But an archived version of the site states that Paul Dyal founded the church in 1977 and that his son, Darrin Dyal, has served as lead pastor since 2004. 

TRR reached out to the church repeatedly for comment but did not receive a response. 

Multiple victims abused on church property 

According to court records, Williamson’s multiple felony crimes occurred at the Jacksonville church over a four-year period in the 1990s. 

During this time, “a family with children was living on the church property” with landlord Williamson, stated a press release from State Attorney Melissa Nelson. 

Court records indicate Williamson had custody of a young girl and her three brothers during the day, while the children’s father worked. The press release asserted Williamson, then in his 60s, used this arrangement to get “access to the victim.” 

The arrest report stated that Williamson initially molested the girl, touching her inappropriately in the process of bathing and dressing her. “The abuse progressed . . . to ‘actual rape’ as described by (the victim),” stated the report. 

A later information report in the criminal case revised the charges to four counts of sexual battery. It described that Williamson “inserted his finger in the vagina” of the victim, in addition to incidents of forced oral sex and penetrative sex. 

Jacksonville Assembly of
the Body of Christ in Jacksonville, Florida. (Video screengrab)

The arrest report states that the victim “had multiple urinary tract infections (UTIs) that were left untreated.” A woman at her school noticed the girl’s problems and reported the suspected abuse to Dyal’s wife, the report added.

“(The girl) and her brothers were separated and sent to live with other families in the Church,” states the arrest report, “which was what (the victim) feared would happen if she disclosed what the suspect was doing.”

Years later, the girl told another woman about Williamson’s abuse, and he was sent away, the arrest report concluded.

Two more victims of Williamson were identified during the investigation and testified at trial, according to a press release from Attorney Nelson. 

A hearing in the criminal case against Paul Dyal and Teschendorf is scheduled for May 6.

Freelance journalist Josh Shepherd writes on faith, culture, and public policy for several media outlets. He and his family live in the Washington, D.C. area.



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9 Responses

  1. I’m being very naive now. I taught my children if anyone touched or said things that made you feel uncomfortable let me know. Nobody can touch you in your private areas. If they do let me know. Why are so many pervs getting away with years vs just months of abuse. And i’m hardly the perfect parent. But come on folks. What’s this about.

    1. It’s called abuse of power. You can teach and try the best you can to teach and protect your kids. The problem is that there will always be predators!

    2. Of course we don’t know what happened in THIS case but in other cases, it’s been known that parents viewed the “leaders” of these institutions as “gods” and treated them with awe, being in absolute submission to them.

      Thus the children are not believed because the leaders are seen as saintly or have a stronghold over the parents.
      Or, even worse, the children don’t report the abuse to their parents because they know that they are not valued (especially compared to the “gods”).
      I watched a long and harrowing documentary on RCC clergy abuse in Ireland and this was exactly what happened there: the kids were even BEATEN by their parents for “daring” to suggest the priest did such a thing.

      Such abominations will continue to happen as long as people displace Christ as the head of the ekklesia (the body), idolize men and enable men to ignore Matthew 20:25-28, 1 Corinthians 12, 1 Peter 5:3 etc.

    3. It’s all there in the article. The story described how one victim DID speak out and told Pastor Dyal in 2004. Another victim in the 1990s was living in the church facilities and being babysat by that creepy old pedophile Williamson. Williamson’s victim DID speak out to Pastor Dyal’s wife, which resulted in the victim and her family unit being further victimized when it was broken up to live separately in other homes.

    4. Just my own personal anecdote – I’m a millennial, and my parents never gave me a “tell us if anyone ever touches you in an inappropriate place” talk, and I have to assume the same was true for many people raised in similar households. I’m fortunate that such abuse never happened to me, but if it had? I was raised to be so submissive to authority, and not to question authority, and I have a bad feeling about what would have happened.

  2. Many parents don’t say that. Some perpetrators so threaten their victims that they won’t even tell their parents who do say that. In churches, it’s mixed up with false claims about submission to superiors and/or to men. Many women feel so ashamed or disgraced that they won’t say anything. In other words, there are lots of reasons. But, William, may your tribe increase! :)

  3. Four consecutive life sentences for an 87-year old are more symbolic than substantive. He’ll get free 24 hour medical care, room and board, laundry service, cable tv. Meanwhile his many victims suffer a lifetime of therapy and recovery. That church should be shut down as a public nuisance.

    1. And fined and ordered to pay back all the years of tax free tax status since the beginning of the first notification of abuse. I just don’t see how this keeps happening in the church. And I don’t get creepy old men wanting to do this. How are old men attracted to children? What has so sickened these preachers, youth workers, pastors, ministers, caretakers, etc? It’s every day we are hearing this stuff and it’s only WHAT WE ARE HEARING! Think of all that is still continuing that we are NOT hearing about, still being covered up. I just don’t get it. I don’t get sexually abusing children. That’s a whole different level of sinfulness isn’t it? That can’t just fall under “sinfulness of man” can it?

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