PRINCETON — Tears flowed down anguished faces in a Mercer County courtroom Friday as victims of a man described as “every parent’s nightmare” learned he would spend a mere fraction of time behind bars rather than the hundreds of years he was facing.
Members of the courtroom audience sat in shocked silence as the judge delivered his sentence and they watched deputies lead a handcuffed Timothy Probert out of the room.
Victims, family members, prosecutors and others then lingered in the courtroom, sharing hugs, openly weeping and expressing dismay at the judge’s mandate.
Probert, 58, of Princeton, pleaded guilty in April to 37 charges related to child sexual abuse that occurred while he served as a youth volunteer at Westminster Presbyterian Church and mentor for the Working to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect (WE CAN) program.
Probert, who was facing 171 to 489 years in prison, was sentenced to 15 to 35 years by retired Fayette County Judge Charles Vickers. Vickers was appointed as a special judge on the case in 2015 after Mercer County Circuit Court judges Omar Aboulhosn, Derek Swope and William “Bill” Sadler recused themselves citing conflicts of interest.
The abuse occurred on multiple male victims between the ages of 10 and 16 between 1986 and 2010, according to Sgt. M.D. Clemons, with the Crimes Against Children Unit of the West Virginia State Police.
“I am here because Tim Probert systematically and methodically groomed me as a 14-year-old boy to feed his twisted, pathetic sexual appetites,” one victim said while addressing the court during the hearing. “Tim Probert was an elder in my church. He was a family friend …”
The victim said Probert established a friendship with him so that he would become increasingly sexual with him.
“Over the course of approximately two years I spent about four different nights at Tim Probert’s house,” the victim continued. “The progression was always the same. First friendship through shooting pool; sharing meals; watching movies. Along the way alcohol was always introduced. Then Tim would provide us with pornography to watch with him. As a 14-year-old, pubescent boy with my earliest access to alcohol I masturbated in the presence of Tim Probert. As a grown man, a trusted citizen of our community, a family friend, an elder of the church of Jesus Christ, Tim Probert masturbated in my presence. Tim Probert asked me if he could masturbate me, which I declined. I was unable to see it at the time, but have come to believe this was the carefully choreographed work of a seasoned sexual predator.”
The victim said he believed prison was the best place for Probert.
“… at the end of the day, I am unfit to make definitive calls about your spiritual condition. But if Jesus Christ became a man, took God’s wrath for you on the cross and got up from the dead then I believe there is hope for you in Him,” he said. “It seems to me that you stand the best chance of truly making that hope your own in prison, where your sexual appetites for children will be starved and, by God’s grace, you’ll have a chance to turn to Him instead.”
Near the end of his statement the victim broke down, concluding with, “God have mercy on this court.”
A second victim who testified by video conference addressed Probert, saying “You are what nightmares are made of … I’ll never forgive you nor will I ever forget what you did. You destroyed a large part of my life and the relationships I had with my family that I will never get back.”
The victim’s statement had to be given by video conference because he is currently incarcerated. He was abused by Probert while a troubled youth in the WE CAN program.
“You belittled me, you degraded me, and you disrespected me,” the victim said. “You didn’t get accountability until you got caught … whatever the judge gives you will never be enough in my eyes.”
Speaking prior to the victims’ statements, defense attorney William Flanigan addressed whether Probert should spend the rest of his life in prison.
Flanigan argued that courts value “acceptance of responsibility,” and said that Probert had done that. He said Probert pleaded guilty because he knew the victims were “anguished and hurt,” and he did not want “to revictimize them.”
Flanigan also told the court that while Probert was on home confinement, he voluntarily underwent chemical castration injections.
Chemical castration is unlike surgical castration in that the gonads are not removed. Instead, drugs are used to reduce libido and sexual activity.
Following Flanigan’s statements, Probert was given an opportunity to address the court. “I would just like to say I have accepted responsibility for what I’ve done,” he said, avoiding eye contact with the victims and family members. “I hope those individuals I’ve hurt will find healing, comfort and peace.”
“What is the just sentence for a convicted serial child molester?” Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Kelli Harshbarger asked, describing Probert as “every parent’s nightmare.”
Harshbarger said Probert manipulated the victims and tricked their parents. “The parents never saw the monster behind the mask.”
She noted the victims continue to suffer from the damage the sexual abuse caused their mental and emotional states. “The defendant deserves no less than the same life sentence.”
Probert “conveniently sought counseling after his arrest, he conveniently started taking shots after his arrest,” Harshbarger continued, adding, “He’s paying lip service.”
Assistant Prosecuting Attorney George Sitler reminded the court that a few months after Probert’s arrest he was brought before the court for soliciting sex from a man who came to his house offering to do yard work.
“It’s obvious why he was chemically castrated ... he did it to stay out of jail,” Sitler said.
Harshbarger and Sitler also asked the judge to run Probert’s sentences consecutively and not concurrently.
Vickers sentenced Probert to one to five years for the seven counts of first-degree sexual abuse; one to five years for the three counts of third-degree sexual assault; 10 to 25 years for the one count of second-degree sexual assault; 15 to 35 years for the one count of first-degree sexual assault; five to 15 years for 21 counts of sexual abuse by a parent, guardian or custodian; 10 to 20 years for three additional counts of sexual abuse by a parent, guardian or custodian; and one to three years for the one count of delivery of a controlled substance.
Vickers ordered that the sentences run concurrently, which dramatically lowered the number of years Probert will spend behind bars.
He also gave him credit for time served while on home confinement, making Probert eligible for parole in 12 years.
Those in the audience were asked to remain seated while Probert was led away by deputies. A heavy law enforcement presence was visible in the courtroom during the hearing.
Westminster Presbyterian Pastor Jonathan Rockness was one of many individuals who remained in the courtroom after the hearing.
As pastor of the church where Probert served as a youth volunteer, Rockness conducted an internal investigation in 2013 when he learned of possible abuse, then contacted Sgt. Clemons with information that was uncovered.
“Frankly, I believe this sentence is absurd,” Rockness said. “This is a man that spent his entire adult life abusing young boys, many of whom were the children of family friends, others of whom were assigned to have him as a father-figure because they had already been neglected or abused. He has pleaded guilty to 37 counts, yet the sentence is equivalent to what would be given to just one count. A serial child-rapist has now been sentenced as if he only violated the law one time. It is mystifying.”
“As a Christian, however, I am reminded that I too have not received the sentence I deserve,” Rockness continued. “Because of my own sin I deserve death, and yet through Jesus taking my sentence I have been given eternal life instead. Westminster Church will move forward thankful for the mercy we have been given and confident that justice ultimately belongs to the Lord. We will also continue to assist any survivors as best we can.”
— Contact Samantha Perry at email@example.com