A one-time top lieutenant to Martin Luther King Jr. was sentenced Wednesday to 15 years in prison for having sex more than a decade ago with his then-teenage daughter.
The Rev. James L. Bevel, 71, a key architect of the 1963 Children's Crusade in Birmingham, Ala., and other pivotal moments of the civil rights movement, was convicted earlier this year of a single count of incest.
The assault occurred in the early 1990s in Loudoun County, when Bevel was working closely with the Virginia-based organization led by political extremist Lyndon LaRouche.
The 15-year sentence imposed by Circuit Judge Burke McCahill was the most severe allowed. Sentencing guidelines called for probation only.
Bevel testified during Wednesday's hearing that he was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer that has spread to his liver. Doctors estimate he has only six weeks to six months to live.
Bevel had hoped for probation so he could enter hospice care. But prosecutors said his illness should not temper his sentence.
"We know that the defendant is dying," said Prosecutor Gigi Lawless. "Everyone dies. This defendant should die in jail."
Prosecutors estimated that Bevel, who is eligibile for parole, would serve no more than five years if he were to live that long.
They also revealed that at least four other daughters Bevel had with various women have made similar allegations against him. At the sentencing hearing, the victims said they were hoping that Bevel would apologize for his actions and seek forgiveness and reconciliation.
That didn't happen. Instead, Bevel mocked the notion of an apology.
"Saying 'I'm sorry' is a game we play. That's a playboy talking to a prostitute," Bevel said on the witness stand shortly before he was sentenced.
Bevel then launched into an extended explanation of his philosophy, which includes applying the teachings of the New Testament to the "science of constitutionality." During his trial, testimony indicated that Bevel considered it parents' duty to "sexually orient" their children.
Bevel's daughter, Aaralyn Mills, testified about the conflicting feelings she has had as she pursued the case against her father, a man that she said she still loves and respects in many aspects.
"It's fading, but I still have a strong feeling that my father was doing something, that he was working on some truth," said Mills, who agreed to be identified publicly. "My hope was for him to apologize in a Christian way, to repent. ... I've never known him to be a liar. He's been violent, mean and abusive, but he's always been honest."
During the trial, Bevel's daughter testified that she was repeatedly molested by Bevel beginning when she was just 6 years old, culminating in sexual intercourse in 1993 or 1994 that formed the basis of the incest charge.
Besides being a leader in the Children's Crusade in which police turned fire hoses and dogs on child protesters, Bevel was also an organizer at other civil rights movement events, including the 1965 march at Selma, Ala.
In the 1960s, Bevel was a leader in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), two of the stalwart organizations that led efforts to desegregate the South.