A Greenfield man faces multiple felony charges alleging he abused his authority as a pastor several years ago to coerce a teenage girl into performing and submitting to sexual acts.
Late last month, a grand jury in the Northern District of Hillsborough County Superior Court in Manchester indicted Christopher Lawton, 43, on 10 counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault alleging five separate instances of sexual assault between early 2015 and mid-2016. The girl was 16 and 17 during that period.
The court sent the indictments out Tuesday to attorneys and members of the media, as it does monthly. An indictment is not an indication of guilt, but a formal means of charging someone with a crime.
Lawton did not immediately respond to a voicemail left Thursday afternoon.
In October 2014, according to selectboard meeting minutes, Lawton began renting space at the Greenfield Meeting House to hold Bible study and worship services on Sundays. Lawton told the selectboard that he had been holding those services at his home with about 20 to 30 people.
An item in a town newsletter that winter identified Lawton’s organization as the Lamplight Christian Church and called it an “independent, non-denominational Christian church.”
Reached Thursday, Greenfield Town Administrator Aaron Patt said he did not have immediate access to records about how long the group used the Meeting House.
Each count of aggravated felonious sexual assault carries a potential maximum penalty of 10 to 20 years in prison.
New Hampshire’s age of consent is generally 16. But under state law, it is a felony to abuse a position of authority to coerce someone under 18 into sexual acts. It is also a felony for a therapy provider to engage in sexual activity with a client of any age through coercion or otherwise unethical behavior. Prosecutors have charged Lawton under both provisions, alleging he had a “pastoral counseling relationship” with the girl.