BRUNSWICK, Ga. — Kenneth Adkins sits in jail and ticks off the hours … days … dreaming about reinventing himself.
Perhaps he’ll go to work and advocate for coeds who attend historically black colleges in the Atlanta area, or so he said on Day 216 behind bars. Or perhaps there’ll be a national appetite for an “Apprentice”-type reality TV show where former convicts like himself vie for jobs on the outside, something he floated to the Times-Union sometime around Day 158.
Adkins knows a thing of two about reinventing himself. He went from a drug-addicted con man in the 1980s and ’90s to a fairly prominent public relations man in Jacksonville. Although clean, he’s made many financial mistakes. Adkins became a pastor and more recently a bishop.
Along the way he’s earned accolades from Trumpian-types who love his tell-it-like-it-is approach. And he’s earned his fair share of fist-shaking from those he has crossed. Then there are those who simply say Adkins crossed the line too far this time, something he now freely admits he did when he championed the anti-gay, anti-transsexual stance during the public debates leading up to Jacksonville’s expansion of the Human Right Ordinance.
Adkins fired off a series of crude statements and caricatures on Twitter targeting former Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Hazzouri, the city councilman who was the chief sponsor of the legislation. He then made a contemptuous statement regarding the Pulse nightclub massacre — a gay club — in Orlando.
Adkins’ vitriol for gay and transgender people, which he says initially came at the insistence of multiple Jacksonville churches who hired him — is the reason, he believes, he is behind bars today and perhaps for the rest of his life on molestation charges of a young man and woman.
Today is Adkins’ 220th day behind bars at the Glynn County jail in Brunswick. Adkins will sample a morsel of freedom Monday as he sits in a courtroom, not too far from where he preached to so many people, and watches as a jury is picked for his trial. The case is expected to last at least through Thursday.
While this isn’t Adkins’ first dance with incarceration — he’s been arrested 27 times in the state of Florida, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement — the week ahead for Adkins will no doubt be his most daunting.
Adkins faces a lifetime behind bars if convicted of the five counts of aggravated child molestation; three counts of simple child molestation; two counts of enticing a child for indecent purposes and a single charge of influencing a witness.
He’s accused of enticing two young people he was very close with to have sex in front of him and he’s also accused of participating in these acts about seven years ago.
Recently, the district attorney offered to drop all charges but a single child abuse count and the influencing charge, though Adkins was told he still could have faced three decades in prison, which, for him, is akin to a death sentence.
Adkins said no.
“I didn’t commit these crimes. I did not commit these crimes,” Adkins said in one of dozens of jailhouse telephone interviews with the Times-Union. “Do you really think I’d roll the dice with my life? I’m 57. Convicted is being sent away forever. And because I did not do it, I’m not going to (take the) plea. I did not commit these crimes I’m charged with. No ma’am.”
On trial for being anti-gay
It was only recently that Adkins began talking about his case. In the other jailhouse phone calls, he chatted about life before his August arrest, his rise in power in Jacksonville when he helped run political campaigns, to the mistakes he’s made.
In these sometimes daily conversations, he spoke less freely about his past drug use and more freely about his apparent recent transformation from an over-the-top anti-gay stance to someone who believes that people, no matter their sexual identity or sexual attractions, should be treated with dignity.
“I realized what I was doing was so anti-Bible — which was not loving people for who they are,” he said.
Adkins maintains he intended to tell the pastors, whom he says hired him to trumpet their anti-gay position, about his change of heart, but was interrupted from doing so when his phone rang and it was the Georgia Bureau of Investigation calling to inform him he had been the target of an investigation.
Not long after, Adkins turned himself in when a warrant for his arrest was issued. He’s been denied bail and has been in the Glynn County jail ever since, ticking away the days dreaming about reinventing himself.
Kevin Gough, Adkins attorney, maintains the district attorney’s case is weak, and that if the allegations involved anyone other than Adkins, who himself admits he can be very polarizing, then the charges would have been dropped long ago.
“He doesn’t know when to stop,” Gough said.
It was about a year ago that law enforcement in Glynn County began investigating Adkins on child molestation charges after getting a call from a military official who said a young man claimed he was molested by Adkins.
The young man, said Adkins, is very troubled. Adkins and others associated with the case rattle off a list of reasons the young man may want to get back at Adkins: There was a $5,000 loan from the man to the church that Adkins didn’t pay back. There were thoughts about the young man’s sexual identity.
What is known is the young man and woman Adkins are accused of grooming for sex and then molesting had been members of his church, Greater Dimensions Christian Fellowship, and they had dated for a few years and even planned on getting married.
That changed in 2014, when as Adkins sees it, the young woman changed her mind after learning from Adkins that the young man had gotten drunk and woke up in bed with another man while away in the military. Adkins said he told the young woman and encouraged her to get HIV-tested.
In 2016, Adkins said, the young man, back on a break from the military, told him he blamed Adkins for his losing the only woman he ever loved. Adkins also said, at the time of the confrontation the young man asked his former pastor for his blessing, as he intended to marry another man.
Adkins said no.
“(This is for being) an anti-gay rights activist,” Adkins said. “… That’s what I’m on trial for. They can call it what they want, but I’m on trial for my anti-gay rights activism. I served that role. … That’s a role I regret.”
Adkins said he intends to testify at his trial.
Gough maintains the young woman Adkins is accused of having sex with when she was a minor has said numerous times the charges are bogus and her ex-boyfriend is making the story up. According to transcripts from a hearing last week, another woman — a potential material witness — told police she had sex with the young man at the heart of the case in front of Adkins and that Adkins had participated to some extent in the tryst, but on the stand, she said that was not true.
This woman said under oath that police pressured her to make a statement.
Credibility, said Gough, is troubling.
“You’ve got a young man who is troubled and has all kinds of motives, and a second victim saying it didn’t happen. And the third acknowledged being pressured by the police,” Gough said.
Eileen Kelley: (904) 359-4014