Youth minister indicted on sex
Monitor Staff Reports
CEDAR CREEK LAKE–A Kaufman County grand jury indicted Joshua Neal
Ponder, 32, on one count of Sexual Assault of a Child during its
deliberations Oct. 21.
Ponder had resigned his post with the First Baptist Church in Mabank the
day after he was arrested, which took place Aug. 13.
He has been held in the Kaufman County Law Enforcement Center on a
According to a Mabank police report, the offense occurred April 8, and
was reported to police Aug. 8.
Chief Kyle McAfee said the offense allegedly occurred repeatedly
throughout the year.
Ponder’s name was not found on the FBI’s national registry of sex
When the arrest occurred, the church leadership issued a statement
expressing sadness by the circumstances involving Ponder prior to and
during his employment at First Baptist, and praying for those who have
Eye doc pleads guilty
By Michael V. Hannigan
Monitor Staff Writer
ATHENS–On a recent Monday, 59-year-old Curtis Cook stood before a
Henderson County judge and admitted to stealing the innocence from a
girl who should have been in elementary school rather than in the
courtroom that day.
Cook, an optometrist with a practice in Gun Barrel City, pleaded guilty
in Judge Dan Moore’s 173rd District Court to aggravated sexual assault
of a child, a first degree felony which carries a penalty of between
five and 99 years in prison.
His victim was significantly younger than the statutory 14 years old
listed in the indictment; an indictment which doesn’t point to
intercourse, but to perversion nonetheless.
Henderson County prosecutors weren’t the only ones going after Cook. He
was not only indicted here, but also three times in Kaufman County on
the same charge.
Cook’s dual arrests in Gun Barrel City, first in November, 2007, and
then again in February, 2008, made headlines in all Henderson County
And on Sept. 29, the day he pleaded guilty, Curtis Cook went home
instead of to jail.
Judge Moore accepted a deal worked out by Assistant District Attorney
and future County Attorney Clint Davis to give Cook 10 years deferred
The deal also reportedly covered the three indictments in Kaufman
Calls to the Kaufman County District Attorney’s Office for comment on
the case were not returned.
So how does a confessed sex offender get to walk the streets?
In this case, at least, it had more to do with the victim and her family
than with Cook, according to the judge who approved the plea.
Moore said the victim’s family asked him to approve the deal so that
their daughter would not have to take the stand in a trial.
“They just wanted it to be over,” Moore said.
The judge said he could have ignored the family’s request and impelled
the child to testify, but to what end?
It would be like the victim getting assaulted all over again, this time
with the family sitting in the front row, Moore said.
The judge pointed to a similar case recently that underwent trial three
times, due to a mistrial – and the victim was only 6 years old.
“As a judge we have to think about what’s good for the state of Texas,”
Moore said, “but to some extent we also have to think about what’s good
for the child.”
Moore also pointed out that many of the child sexual assault cases do
not involve an exchange of DNA, and therefore the only evidence comes
from the testimony of the victim. There are almost never any other
“Who’s going to do something like that when someone else is watching?”
Although not directly involved in the Cook case, Henderson County
District Attorney Donna Bennett agreed with Moore.
Bennett said her office is willing to accept probation in sex offender
cases when a supportive family is asking to keep the victim off the
The “supportive family” is a key factor, said Bennett. She said her
office pays close attention to the family dynamic when making decisions.
The DA’s Office would be less likely to listen to the family’s request
for probation if the accused is linked to the victim, she said, like the
mother’s boyfriend, for instance.
But in those other cases, with a supportive family that doesn’t want to
put the victim through any more trauma, the DA’s Office sometimes
Bennett said she’s had parents tell her of victims who wet their beds,
struggle in school and have nightmares. Her voice caught as she told of
one child who was strong during her testimony only to collapse from the
strain when walking out of the courtroom.
And what if a jury, which can sometimes be fickle, decides not to
believe the victim?
“Then the parents have to try and explain to this little child what
happened,” Bennett said.
Both Bennett and Moore said the important thing with the deferred
adjudication probation is that it gets the sex offender into the system.
After pleading guilty, the defendant has to register as a sex offender
for life. That does not stop when the probation is over, Bennett said.
That fact that revoking probation is easier than getting a conviction at
trial is also an important factor, she said. Revoking probation does not
require a trial, only a hearing before a judge.
“In a trial, we have to prove someone is guilty beyond a shadow of a
doubt,” Bennett said. “In a probation revocation, all we need is a
preponderance of the evidence. We only need 51 percent instead of 100
percent, in other words.”
In Cook’s case, if his probation is revoked he could go to jail for the
original sentence: five to 99 years.
How hard is probation for sex offenders in Henderson County?
“Do you remember the old book ‘The Scarlet Letter?’” asked Ty Choate,
the director of the Henderson County Probation Department.
“That’s almost what you are if you are determined to be a sex offender,
because somebody in the state of Texas is going to be watching you from
Choate described probation for a Level I sex offender, a pedophile, in
Henderson County as a stepped process that takes years.
During years one and two, the offender is at the maximum level of
oversight. Some of what that entails includes:
• Meeting twice monthly at the probation office for group therapy.
• Being visited, unannounced, once monthly in the field.
• Going through a full battery of tests and evaluations that begin to
build a file of the pedophile’s “triggers.”
• Sex counseling once a week.
• Providing a DNA sample.
• Passing three polygraph tests that help with the counseling.
There are many other steps required in the probation as well, such as
drug and alcohol counseling, drug testing, community service, etc.
Moore said the sex offender’s probation list looked like a second
After two years, the sex offender gets dropped to the medium level of
oversight. Choate said the only thing that gets dropped in the move from
maximum to medium is one group session.
How hard is it? Choate said 70 percent of the sex offenders fail to keep
up with all their probation and end up back in front of the judge.
“We have one of the highest levels of supervision in the state,” Choate
said. “This is a high priority for us.”
Choate said the county currently has 33 sex offenders in the program,
including two who were transfers from another county.
ECC considers buying
some Mabank customers
By Barbara Gartman
Monitor Staff Writer
GUN BARREL CITY–East Cedar Creek Fresh Water Supply District directors
approved the first submission of a proposed draft contract to the city
of Mabank at their Oct. 23 meeting.
“Some months ago, Mabank contacted East Cedar Creek to see if there was
any interest in purchasing a number of its water meters, and a portion
of its CNN (Certificate of Convenience and Necessity),” director Harry
The district’s finance committee studied the question, worked up the
numbers and proposed a purchase price of $1.1 million, McCune reported.
The finance committee, consisting of Carol Meyer and Jim Boyles,
approved a preliminary contract to be submitted to the city of Mabank.
“It seems to be a good idea,” McCune said. “However, there’s a lot of
work to do in a change-over.”
In other business, directors:
• agreed to continue with the current Blue Cross medical insurance
policy for employees on a 3-2 vote.
McCune and Meyer voted no. Both said they would like to give employees
more of a choice.
Boyles and W. Richard Watkins voted yes and board president David Burch
cast a tie-breaking vote.
• approved an employee purchase program through the district’s vendors,
and allow payments to be through payroll deductions.
• agreed to hold an employee benefits and awards dinner, with the time
and date to be settled later.
• agreed to allow the finance committee to meet with the general manager
to discuss the dispensation of a $224,000 CD that matures in late
The committee will be deciding how much to roll over, and how much might
need to be placed into the district’s operating reserve fund for
• authorized Athens engineer Chris Weeks to specify and manage the
refurbishment of the filter units numbers 1 and 2 at the Brookshire
water treatment plant.
“We may suggest getting a metallurgist to check for cracks in the filter
walls,” Weeks said.
• agreed to use I&I reserve funds, not to exceed $3,500, to replace a
section of sewer main and to rehabilitate the manhole at lift station
• agreed to take $10,100 from the operating reserve fund to update the
communications system at the McKay water treatment plant.
• denied a $415.46 reimbursement of personal expenditures occurred
during the investigation of sewer odors at a residence on Boshart Way,
because the odors were coming from the resident’s property, not the
district’s sewer main.
High winds feed flames
The Eustace Fire Department and five other area departments responded to
fully engaged structure fire at the old "Putman Home" just east of
High northerly winds fed the flames, Payne Springs Fire Chief Randy
reported. The abandoned 11,000 sq. ft. structure was once used as a
or halfway house many years ago. Assistance came from the North 19 VFD
and Payne Springs Fire Rescue, along with its aerial ladder truck. As
continued Gun Barrel City, Log Cabin and Malakoff units were called in
One minor injury was sustained while fighting the fire.