Charges added against Florala fugitive, sex suspect

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The case against a Florala man accused of fleeing to North Carolina to escape sex abuse charges has expanded to include another victim.

Luther Paul Townsend, 76, was originally arrested on warrants for allegedly sexually abusing a 12-year-old girl in April 2009. Now, a Covington County grand jury has indicted Townsend for allegedly performing those same actions on a second female child.

Florala Chief Sonny Bedsole said Townsend was re-arrested Saturday for three counts of sexual abuse of a child under 12 and two counts of first-degree sexual abuse, as well as the new charge of two counts of enticing a child.

The case first began when the first victim’s grandmother filed a report with the Florala Police Department, Bedsole said.

Based on the victim’s statement, Bedsole said, the alleged abuse had been occurring for more than two years.

After a brief investigation, Townsend was placed under arrest, released on a $650,000 bond and later fled to Lenoir, N.C., to avoid facing the charges. U.S. Marshals and Caldwell County, N.C., officers located Townsend in an auto parts store in the small town located 550 miles from Florala in March of this year.

He remained in the North Carolina jail until Saturday, when he was brought back to Covington County.

Bedsole said Monday the case against Townsend was later expanded to include the second victim after Townsend “invited them to his room under the pretense of watching TV, where the alleged sexual contact occurred.”

“The first victim has just completed counseling, and the case was presented to the grand jury, because of the situation with the second victim,” he said. “A portion of (Townsend’s) charges are (because of) one victim; the rest (of the charges because of) the other (victim.)

Townsend was booked into the Covington County Jail and later released on a $500,000 bond.

“Like I’ve said before, instances such as this are a prime example of how these things can happen here,” he said. “The more we get the word out, the better it is and easier it gets to identify these situations.”

Bedsole said anyone suspecting instances of child abuse should call the nearest law enforcement agency.