The Arkansas Times has confirmed that a Baptist preacher in Eureka Springs who features prominently in a new video urging repeal of the city’s Ordinance 2223, which protects LGBT people from discrimination, pleaded guilty to a series of violent rapes in Oklahoma in 1977.
Acra Lee Turner, 60, currently serves as a pastor of Penn Memorial Baptist Church in Eureka Springs. In an interview with the Times, he confirmed that he is the same Acra Lee Turner who, as a 22-year-old man, was convicted of three counts of rape in Stephens County near Lawton, Okla. In April 1977, he was sent to prison for three concurrent sentences of 30 to 60 years for those crimes, including — according to this story from an Oklahoma newspaper — the rape of an 80-year old woman who was beaten so badly that she was almost unrecognizable.
Turner was released in August 2000. According to reports in The Oklahoman and Tulsa World newspapers, the victims and their relatives repeatedly petitioned the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board to keep him in prison.
According to The Oklahoman, Turner’s first victim delivered 4,861 signatures to the Pardon and Parole Board in 1991. It was the sixth such petition she’d delivered.
“It’s been difficult, but this is the only way I can stay ahead of him,” the victim told The Oklahoman in 1992. “I believe if he gets out, he will commit the crime again, and this time he won’t leave a witness. “
The son of the 80-year-old woman beaten nearly beyond recognition by Turner assisted on the petition drives. He told The Oklahoman he blamed Turner for the death of his mother, whose health declined after she was raped.
Turner’s crimes predate the establishment of the Oklahoma State Sex Offender Registry, and parole and probation officials in Oklahoma could find no record that he is currently being supervised by that state as a parolee. After being released, Turner said that he worked as a basketball coach at a Pentecostal college in Joplin, Mo. He previously served as the pastor at Rock Springs Baptist Church in Eureka, and started as the pastor at Penn Memorial Baptist Church on April 15.
In a phone interview, Turner said he has turned his life around. “All that does is just show the same thing I show now: How God can change a man’s life,” he said. “That’s 40 years ago. That’s behind me. It’s nothing I’ve tried to hide. I preach about it on Sundays. I don’t preach about it much because it’s been so many years ago. I go to jails and prisons where guys go, ‘Hey, you don’t understand what it’s like to be locked up. I’ll say, ‘Yes I do.’ ”
Turner likened the questions about his past to news stories that try to take the focus off important stories, in this case, Ordinance 2223. While discussing the issue, Turner began to speak about himself as a young man, saying:
“Think about this: You’ve got a kid raised in the ghetto. You’ve got, “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud!” going on. You’ve got, ‘Every white man is a blue-eyed devil.’ Angela Davis and Stokely Carmichael, go out and kill every white man. It’s wrong information, but you give it to a young man just like we were doing in the day, and — you understand? I can relate to people when they go and join up with the ISIS group, because they’ve been told misinformation — brainwashed. I’m a young man who was told, ‘white man this and white man that. Do you know what they did to us?’ Then when I look back, there wasn’t nothing done to me, but they make it so strong like, ‘I was in slavery all that time.’ … You’re talking about an angry young man, just like you got them angry terrorists. So when I look at my past, the thing about that is, ‘I snapped.’ “
Turner said that in the process of indoctrination, a person first starts hating white men, then starts hating light-complected blacks, then starts hating people who don’t think the way he does. “It don’t stop. You understand?” Turner said. “So I felt like what I meant to do was just say, ‘I don’t believe in the law.’ “
Turner refused to say whether those involved in the Repeal 2223 effort knew about his convictions prior to his involvement in the video, which is titled “Vote Against 2223 to Defend Jobs, Faith, Freedom & Bathroom Privacy.” He said the opinions of anyone other than himself are irrelevant, because there’s nowhere in the scriptures that says a person should be concerned with the opinions of others.
“Whatever comes, it’s not up to Eureka Springs to forgive me,” he said. “Eureka Springs has their own problems. They might put their eyes on me so they don’t have to worry about their problems, but the ones that need to be helped, they don’t care where I’ve been. The ones living under the bridges? They don’t care. The ones that their husbands have beat the crap out of them? They understand.”