The former pastor of a Perris church accused of sexually assaulting a female congregant pleaded not guilty Monday to forcible rape.
Jerome Anthony Clay, 41, of Perris, who is free on $110,000 bail, entered his plea before Riverside County Superior Court Judge Helios Hernandez at the Riverside Hall of Justice.
He faces eight years in prison if convicted as currently charged, District Attorney officials tell Patch.
Clay was arrested in March after a young woman alleged she had been assaulted by the defendant.
According to sheriff's officials, the alleged assault occurred on Feb. 12, but no details were disclosed. The victim, identified in court papers only as Jane Doe, apparently attended services at Compassion Life Church at 190 E. 5th St.
Until last month, the church listed Clay as its minister, but according to the interim pastor, Jerry Vaughan, he resigned after the sheriff announced his arrest.
Vaughan told City News Service his former colleague ministered at the church for more than two years and some congregants continue to find the allegation against Clay hard to believe.
"Hopefully he's not guilty," Vaughan said last month. "That would be nice. All it is right now is an accusation. We're concerned, obviously, about whether anyone has been potentially harmed. We're concerned for the community, for the church, and for Jerome's family."
According to court records, Clay has a misdemeanor conviction from 2006 for spousal abuse. He was sentenced to four years probation.
– City News Service contributed to this report.