Supreme Court upholds conviction against woman who violated pastor’s protective order

A Greene County woman convicted of violating a protective order obtained by her former pastor has lost her appeal to the Indiana Supreme Court, which found sufficient evidence to support her third invasion of privacy conviction on Friday.

After Shelly Phipps and her husband attended counseling with their pastor, K.G., the pastor shared details of the counseling session with his church’s board of elders. Phipps demanded an apology from K.G. for breaching her confidence — and for allegedly hugging her inappropriately on two separate occasions — but never received one.

Phipps eventually left the church in Solsberry and began writing letters to K.G. and his parishioners about why she departed. In response, K.G. received a protective order that required Phipps to stay away for his residence and church and prohibited her from directly or indirectly communicating with the pastor.

Phipps was convicted of violating the order in 2009 and 2010, and the Greene Superior Court extended the order an additional two years in January 2016. But one month later, Phipps sent an email to three of the church elders threatening to “go public” with her story unless K.G. resigned, retired or apologized.

When K.G. was forwarded the email, he called police and Phipps was charged with two counts of invasion of privacy. The trial court entered judgment against Phipps as a Level 6 felony, but a majority of the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed, finding the email represented communication with the church elders, not K.G.

The Supreme Court, however, found sufficient evidence to support Phipps’ conviction, with Justice Christopher Goff writing there was “ample circumstantial evidence that shows she knew she would be communicating indirectly with K.G. by emailing the church elders.” Goff noted Phipps’ emailed placed demands only on K.G., so the jury reasonably discredited her trial testimony that she did not intend for the email to reach him.

“Likewise, the jury rejected Phipps’ proposed alternative intent — returning to the church,” Goff wrote. “On the whole, the reasonable inferences drawn from the email and the State’s cross-examination of Phipps support the jury’s finding that Phipps intentionally or knowingly communicated with K.G. through her email to the church elders.”

The high court then found the trial court did not abuse its discretion by considering Phipps’ criminal history as an aggravating circumstance when sentencing her. The transcript reveals the judge did not count Phipps’ previous convictions against her, Goff said, but instead found her continual harassment of K.G. to be the aggravator.

Finally, the court rejected Phipps’ argument that her sentence was inappropriate, with Goff writing she “deliberately defied the protective order in place since 2009” and continued reoffending, even when the trial court showed her leniency in the face of her initial convictions.

All justices concurred.

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