A former volunteer at NewSpring megachurch in South Carolina has been sentenced to 75 years in prison for sexually abusing children while serving in the church daycare.
Twenty-nine-year-old Jacob Hazlett was convicted of one count first-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor, three counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor and two counts of first-degree sexual exploitation of a minor by a jury last week following a two-day trial.
Hazlett served for over eight months at NewSpring’s campus in Charleston before his arrest in November 2018.
He was arrested last year after being caught on a church security camera inappropriately touching a 3-year-old child. He had been accused of abusing at least 14 boys and initially faced over two dozen counts of sexual exploitation of a minor and criminal sexual conduct with a minor.
Hazlett had previously served as a volunteer at Elevation Church in Lake Norman, North Carolina before he was removed from the role in 2014 because the church leadership had an “uneasy feeling” about his interaction with children.
The jury was shown surveillance video that captured Hazlett sexually assaulting young children as well as police interrogation video in which Hazlett admitted he abused the kids.
WCSC reports that Hazlett told detectives that he inappropriately touched the children as well as took video and photos of them at church. An affidavit says that Hazlett told police that he was attracted to young males and admitted that his actions were wrong.
According to the prosecutor, video surveillance shows Hazlett taking a 3-year-old to the bathroom and running his hand on the child’s private parts last November. In the span of the next hour, prosecutors state that Hazlett violated three other boys in the same way.
Prosecutors also allege that the videos show Hazlett trying to take photos of an exposed child.
WCIV’s Anne Emerson reports that a prosecutor told a judge that Hazlett had also been trying to adopt a small child right up until the point he was arrested.
In the courtroom before his sentencing, Hazlett reportedly vowed to change.
“I’m sorry for betraying your trust,” Hazlett was quoted as saying by WCSC. “I’m committed to change. I intend to better myself.”
WCSC also reports that families of the victims were invited to speak after the verdict was read.
“You’re a living example of what evil is," one grandfather was quoted as telling Hazlett. “This has caused my kids to question their faith, even mine.”
One father told the courtroom that his son used to love going to church but now is “terrified.”
NewSpring Church faces four lawsuits filed on behalf of 10 families seeking restitution for Hazlett’s actions. Lawsuits claim that NewSpring didn’t adequately monitor Hazlett considering many of Hazlett’s actions are in view of surveillance cameras.
According to The Post and Courier newspaper last year, three former NewSpring volunteers (including Hazlett) and one former staff have been charged with sex crimes against minors since 2016.
NewSpring has assured that it performs criminal background checks on volunteers and stated that Hazlett’s background check returned with no records found.