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Former Duluth pastor sentenced in sex abuse case

Victims of child sexual abuse could find encouragement in the sentencing of Ellis William Simmons, St. Louis County prosecutor Jon Holets told a judge Tuesday.

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Ellis William Simmons

Victims of child sexual abuse could find encouragement in the sentencing of Ellis William Simmons, St. Louis County prosecutor Jon Holets told a judge Tuesday.

With sexual abuse allegations dating back nearly two decades, justice may have been deferred - but the former Duluth pastor was finally convicted of sexually assaulting two girls in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“It’s the state’s hope that in some small way this resolution can be the start of some closure for the victims,” Holets told the court.

Sixth Judicial District Judge David Johnson sentenced Simmons to nearly 11 years in prison, a day after the defendant pleaded guilty to felony counts of first- and second-degree criminal sexual conduct.

While calling Simmons’ crimes “horrific,” the judge directed most of his comments to the victims.

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“You did nothing wrong,” he told the women. “It’s amazing that you came forward. It’s amazing that you have the strength you have. I hope you can find your faith and find some peace now that this is over.”

Simmons, 40, admitted Monday to sexual penetration of an 11-year-old girl in October 1999 and a second instance with the same girl a year later. He then admitted to an instance involving a 14-year-old in 2005.

Simmons said he knew the first girl through her uncle and knew both from church. He had served as a youth pastor at St. Mark African Methodist Episcopal Church and at Calvary Baptist Church.

While the victims first reported the crimes to police in the early 2000s, Holets said they did not initially provide the perpetrator’s name or enough information to make charges possible at that time.

Simmons went on to serve prison time in Illinois after being convicted of sexually abusing three girls ranging in age from 7 to 10. The decision by his Duluth victims to come forward with additional information made it possible to bring charges in St. Louis County in June 2017, soon after he was released five years into a seven-year prison term in Illinois.

Written statements from both women were read at Tuesday’s sentencing hearing.

“The choices this monster made left me broken physically, mentally and spiritually before I was even a teenager,” one wrote. “Saying out loud what he did was an unbearable task. He took away my ability to speak.”

Both victims said their experiences steered them away from their faith.

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“He took a piece of me that I will never be able to get back. He was someone I trusted,” the other victim wrote, adding: “I have forgiven but I have not forgotten what happened and what it took away from me.”

Simmons briefly addressed the court before formally receiving his sentence. “I’m just grateful they have an opportunity to start their life over again,” he said.

Simmons must serve at least two-thirds of the prison term, a little more than seven years, before he is eligible for supervised release. The sentence was stipulated under a plea agreement with the St. Louis County Attorney’s Office.

Holets told the judge that the case shows how victims can overcome the trauma of child sexual abuse and achieve some measure of justice - even decades later.

“I want my smile back,” one victim told the court, “because I won this battle.”

Tom Olsen has covered crime and courts for the Duluth News Tribune since 2013. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth and a lifelong resident of the city. Readers can contact Olsen at 218-723-5333 or tolsen@duluthnews.com.
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