ENTERS PLEA: Former youth pastor Eric Francis gets 40 years in in child rape case.

A negotiated plea was entered today in Benton County in the case of a former teacher at a state legislator’s pre-school accused of sexually abusing a child.

Eric Francis, 38, of Bella Vista, pleaded guilty to three counts of sexual assault in the second degree and was sentenced to 40 years in prison with an additional 20 years suspended imposition of sentence to follow, said Deputy Prosecutor Carly Marshall. He’ll have to register as a sex offender and is to have no contact with victims, no unsupervised contact with minors and must as a sex offender.


Francis, who had been head teacher at state Rep. Justin Harris’ Growing God’s Kingdom state-funded pre-school in West Fork, was arrested April 4 for rape of a 4-year-old child in his care. The arrest came shortly after the departure of Francis from Harris’ pre-school. Francis, a church youth pastor, had a poor work record Harris said, though he said he’d come with a “pristine” record in other work with children in Head Start and a public school district.

The arrest prompted State Police interviews with children at Harris’ school, but he said at the time he was confident none of them had been victimized. Francis had been taking care of the child and a younger sister since October 2013.