MACON, Ga. – Reverend Onslow Ross’ wrongful federal imprisonment does not scream from the headlines because he didn’t get beaten savagely into a bloodied pulp as, say, in the case of Rodney King. Though Ross bares no physical wounds, what has happened to the pastor of Reaching Souls Cathedral of Praise is much, much worse.
Instead of billy clubs, the long arm of justice lowered its symbolic sword and tore a gaping hole in Ross’ family, his church, his reputation and his way of life when it convicted him on alleged bank fraud and embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from his church’s insurance company.
After one of the two church properties collapsed due to a design flaw in 2005, Reaching Souls received a large settlement to fix it since they owned the damaged property outright. CB&T Bank of Macon claimed they should have received the settlement money. But Ross and the congregation contend that CB&T have no rights to the money since CB&T is the lien holder on the second church property, which was not damaged.
Tragically for Ross and his family, the defense lawyer mysteriously and inexplicably did not introduce any insurance or mortgage experts whose testimonies would have explained this to the jury. Instead, Ross believes his race and his sordid past before becoming a born-again Christian played a major role in his conviction. And he now languishes in unrelenting mental torment, holed up in a federal prison in Alabama on what’s considered an excessive 10-year sentence.
“Words could never describe how this has impacted me. Mentally, it has been an experience that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemies. And in that time, I’ve lost so much,” said Ross. “The stress of this wrongful conviction has dismantled my family, disgraced my ministry, demolished my reputation, credibility and business relationships, and I am missing the most important times in my children’s lives.”
The stress of the indictment and unrelenting press coverage killed Ross’ father, who succumbed to a massive heart attack. Five months later, Ross was convicted and sent to prison. Because of this, his family is in peril and Ross’ mother maintains a tenuous grasp on the church.
Ross’ appeal was denied without a published opinion in 2008. Ross’ defense attorney allegedly admitted to insufficient defense. But he is now being represented by Attorney Marcia Shein of suburban Atlanta. Even the Rev. Al Sharpton, who attended the trial, pledged the weight of the National Action Network on his behalf.
Moreover, the punishment does not fit the crime, says attorney Bradford Cohen, best known from Donald Trump’s “The Apprentice.” He says most white-collar crimes of similar nature, committed by Caucasians, garner 3-6 years instead of 10.
They say justice is blind. But, according to Ross and his many supporters, Lady Justice peeked through her veil and saw Ross’ skin color and viewed him through the prism of his teenage delinquency, and that those two factors played an important role in his conviction.
Still, Ross is resolute in his faith that he will be completely exonerated. Almost 40 now, Ross leans on the of the Old Testament story Joseph, the son of Isaac, who was sold into slavery by his own brothers, and jailed for 13 years, before God exalted him as the virtual ruler of the Egyptian empire.
“I am still confident in the God that I have preached about and in the God that I’ve talked about, that He is going to come through in this situation.”
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