pc-041717-ne-dorchestercounty

Dorchester County CourtHouse located in St. George S.C. . Leroy Burnell/Staff 3/14/2017

A former volunteer at NewSpring Church in North Charleston rejected a plea deal Friday, instead choosing to stand trial after allegedly molesting 15 of the congregation's children.

Jacop Robert Lee Hazlett (copy)

Jacop Robert Lee Hazlett, 28. Hazlett, a South Carolina church volunteer charged with sexually assaulting a 3-year-old boy is now being accused of sexually assaulting at least 13 other children. Dorchester County Sheriff's Department via AP

The plea deal would have required Jacop Hazlett, 29, to admit to 15 of the 23 molestation charges against him. He would have agreed to spend 50 years behind bars, avoiding the potential life sentence a jury could give him.

Instead, he'll go to trial Dec. 9 on three charges, all stemming from alleged offenses against a single child, according to the 1st Circuit Solicitor's Office. Cases involving 14 more children won't be heard by that jury, but could be tried later.

Prosecutors worked with the 15 victims' families to propose the deal, the office said, which would have forced Hazlett to acknowledge one attack on each child during his nine months at the church.

In total, Hazlett faces two counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor, nine counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor and 12 counts of sexual exploitation of a minor. All the indictments are pending.

A 3-year-old boy's parents alerted the church about an "inappropriate interaction" in November 2018, police said, and dozens of security cameras placed around the children's ministry rooms confirmed he'd checked for witnesses before shuffling the boy into a bathroom. 

The footage showed days where several children were assaulted, sometimes more than once, police said. In an interview with investigators, Hazlett allegedly admitted he'd photographed and filmed many of the assaults.

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