Three victims of a North Philadelphia pastor’s alleged sexual abuse described a similar pattern Thursday as they relived details of the encounters in court.
They said the pastor, Mark Hatcher, 59, of Blue Bell, would wait until he was alone with his victims, who all knew him as a father figure or church leader and were underage at the time. He would strike up an otherwise innocuous conversation, but then suddenly grope, or in one instance rape, the children, they told Magisterial District Judge Susan Leonard inside her Blue Bell courtroom.
“I tried to go along with it and play it cool,” said one, who told the judge that Hatcher exposed himself to her before fondling her breasts in a room at his home in 2000. “I was terrified. I didn’t know what to do.”
A young man broke down as he recalled the five incidents starting in 2007 in which he said Hatcher abused him at that same house.
“I feel like I’m reliving it all again, helpless,” he said, his already soft-spoken voice failing several times.
Hatcher is the leader of Holy Ghost Headquarters, a Pentecostal church that worships inside The Met on North Broad Street, a position he has held for decades. He was charged last month with rape, statutory sexual assault, corruption of a minor, and related offenses. His attorney, Robert Gamburg, did not offer an argument against the charges during the preliminary hearing before Leonard on Thursday.
But afterward, he said that Hatcher maintains his innocence, denying the allegations of the three accusers, two of whom Hatcher is related to, and one of whom is a former parishioner at Holy Ghost. Gamburg said the three all had unspecified motivation “to fabricate the allegations,” something he said he would pursue at trial in Montgomery County Court.
He declined to elaborate.
The third accuser said that Hatcher, her pastor at Holy Ghost, was in a relationship with her mother in 2006, when she was 13, and that he offered to give her rides to school on two occasions. Both times, Hatcher came to her house alone and kissed and groped her before taking her to school, she said.
Later, after having dinner in New Jersey, the two stopped to check on a house being renovated in Brewerytown that at the time was owned by the church. They walked into the house, the arrest affidavit said, and the girl sat on an old mattress while Hatcher examined a light switch. Hatcher then walked over, pinned her down, and raped her, covering her mouth as she tried to scream for help, according to the affidavit.
She previously reported that incident to the Philadelphia Police Special Victims Unit in 2008, but the city District Attorney’s Office declined to pursue charges at the time. Jane Roh, the current spokesperson for the office, said notes in the original case file say the accuser was believed, and that police and prosecutors found her account to be credible.
However, for an unspecified reason, Roh said, prosecutors did not think they could meet the burden of proof in court and did not pursue charges.
Prosecutors in Montgomery County began investigating Hatcher in January, when two of his relatives reported the abuse to police in Whitpain Township, according to the affidavit of probable cause for his arrest.
Both told Leonard on Thursday that they had previously reported the abuse to their relatives, with one saying that Hatcher’s wife promised he was “getting help.”