BOISE — Just after a Boise man who ran a church out of his home pleaded guilty last week to sexually abusing a 15-year-old girl, a judge citing concerns about the man’s “access to children” denied a request to lower his bond.
On Dec. 4, Bret Welty, 48, pleaded guilty to sexual abuse of a minor younger than 16 years old in August.
As part of a plea agreement, prosecutors agreed to ask 4th District Court Judge Deborah Bail to dismiss the other charge Welty faced, which was lewd conduct with a child younger than 16 years old.
In describing the plea agreement in court, the judge said that, depending on the outcome of a psychosexual evaluation, prosecutors may recommend Welty serve a rider prison term.
Welty faced those charges in connection with an Aug. 9 incident. At that time, he was running a church out of his home and acting as its pastor. He’d been involved with various churches in the area for roughly 20 years prior to that, though not as a pastor, his attorney Jeffrey Smith said in court Dec. 4.
“Over the last 20 years, he’s volunteered in music programs at a couple of churches here in town,” Smith said. “Only recently did the issue come up as he was beginning a small church. And so I know that initially there was some talk about him as a minister and so I just want to point out to the court that his time spent in that 20-year period was primarily in the music area.”
However, in August, Welty was a pastor to the 15-year-old girl and her family, Erin Pittenger, one of the case’s prosecutors, said Dec. 4.
At the time, the girl was having “anxiety issues,” Pittenger said, and the family thought she would benefit from staying with Welty and his family.
On Aug. 9, Welty entered the girl’s room and touched her inappropriately under the guise of giving her a massage, Pittenger said.
“This lasted anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour,” Pittenger said. “The victim left the house. On a confrontation (phone) call with the defendant, he did confess to this conduct, stating he’d struggled with such behaviors before. Additionally, he also told the victim not to discuss this instance since she was under the age of 18.”
Welty has remained in jail since his arrest, and his bond had been set at $250,000. He’s also founded a Bible study group in the Ada County Jail, Smith said.
On Dec. 4, Smith asked Bail to lower Welty’s bond to $20,000 or $25,000 and said, “He’s basically crime free.”
“Well … but he just pled guilty to a major felony,” Bail said in response.
Smith said Welty had children and grandchildren, including a son who is 16 years old. Welty has coached sports teams and led youth groups for his children, Smith said, and had taught music to both middle and high school students from three different schools.
“This is a one-time occasion,” Smith said. “It all happened on Aug. 9. He has been in custody since that time. …There are no write-ups in the Ada County Jail.”
Bail had reservations, however, about lowering Welty’s bond.
“He … appears to have a lot of access to children with a position that would make parents likely to drop their guard, because one would expect that a person in that role would be a safe person for one’s child to be around, and until I have a full sexual evaluation, I’m not changing anything,” Bail said. “It’s a serious offense, it’s a serious invasion of a person’s personal space, and an extraordinary breach of trust, and I’m not changing anything until I know what’s going on.”
Bail scheduled a sentencing hearing in the case for Feb. 11.
Editor's note - This story has been updated to reflect the following correction: Jeffrey Smith is Welty's attorney. Earlier versions of the story misidentified the attorney.