GULFPORT -- A former Stone County preacher is going to prison for 22 full years for molesting a girl over a three-year period, starting when she was 11 years old.
Carlos Smith, 55, of Saucier, was sentenced Monday in Harrison County Circuit Court in Gulfport.
Smith sexually abused the girl in church and in a family member's home, according to testimony at his recent trial.
Judge Roger Clark ordered Smith to serve his prison term day for day without eligibility for probation or parole. Clark also ordered lifetime registration as a sex offender.
Before sentencing, prosecutors said Smith's attorney asked Clark to consider his client's health problems, including a heart condition.
The girl told the judge she has forgiven Smith for his actions, prosecutors said.
Assistant District Attorney Matthew Burrell said he asked the judge to impose a severe punishment, and noted Smith's violation of a position of trust and the irreparable harm Smith caused to the girl.
Smith faced 20 years to life in prison.
Prosecutors said Clark told Smith his actions were "very egregious."
A Stone County jury had convicted Smith after a three-day trial that ended Jan. 22.
Smith was pastor of Unity Baptist Church in McHenry when he began to abuse the girl starting in 2011, District Attorney Joel Smith said.
Some of the sexual abuse, Smith said, occurred in the church and some occurred at a family member's home.
The girl first told a therapist about the sexual abuse, said Burrell, who prosecuted the case with ADA Mitch Owen.
Investigation by the Stone County Sheriff's Office revealed Smith and the girl are related, and that Smith had been convicted of indecent exposure involving a minor in 2006, Burrell said.
The girl testified the abuse continued until she was 14.
Her therapists also testified and concluded that Smith's characteristics were consistent with a sexual abuser, Burrell said.
The girl "bravely described details of multiple sexual assaults committed upon her" by Smith, he said.
A jury deliberated about two hours before finding him guilty.