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Youth minister indicted on child rape charges

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By JENNIFER HORTONThe Wilson Post

An 18-year-old man who served as youth minister at the True Vine Church in Lebanon has been indicted by the grand jury on nine counts of rape of a child.

Tavaria Merritt was arraigned on the charges on Thursday and is next scheduled to appear in court on Jan. 29. He has been released from jail after posting his bond which was set at $40,000.

According to a news release from the Wilson County Sheriff’s Department, the alleged incidents involved three male children, two of them 11 years old and one of them 10 years old and reportedly occurred separately between January 2009 and June 2009.

The incidents were reported by the parents of the children. All three boys were interviewed by Child Protective Services and “it was reported that the suspect had sexually assaulted the children at his parents’ residence” in the county.

The news release said “the suspect would gain the trust of the children and their parents through his position as a youth minister, then gain permission to have the children stay overnight with him.”

Det. Brian Harbaugh of the Sheriff’s Department is the lead investigator in the case and interviewed Merritt on Aug. 20, 2009. Charges were developed based upon the statements from the victims and the suspect as well.

The news release noted that the suspect was charged originally through juvenile petitions because the alleged incidents occurred when Merritt was 17 years old. General Sessions Judge Barry Tatum transferred the case to adult court on Dec. 15, 2009. Charges were presented to the grand jury meeting this month which returned the indictments.

Editor Jennifer Horton may be contacted at news@wilsonpost.com.

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