Aaron Pennington: Small-Town East Texas Bigwig Busted for Kiddy Porn
UPDATE: Contrary to rumors, Pennington did not commit suicide, but he has now resigned his post on Grapeland City Council. Between the Grapeland police and the Texas Attorney General's office, Pennington now faces a total of seven felony cases relating to kiddy porn and sexual assault of children. Investigators showed one of Pennington's acquaintances, a boy between 14 and 17 years old, pictures of him allegedly having sex with Pennington, and the boy confirmed that he had allegedly done just that. Cops are now attempting to identify other teenage boys in sexually explicit pictures they say they found stored on an external hard drive in Pennington's home. Additional charges may come out of that search; for now, Pennington is free on $120,000 bond.
An old child sex assault case from which he was exonerated has resurfaced to bedevil a portly young East Texas city councilman accused last week of possessing kiddie porn.
Aaron Pennington, 30, comes from one of the oldest, wealthiest and most powerful families in the town of Grapeland, where he serves on city council, and in surrounding Houston County. In addition to being regional watermelon magnates and cattle ranchers, the Penningtons are known for being among the last peanut farmers in Texas, prime movers behind what used to be known as the Goober Festival in Grapeland, a town once known as a veritable cornucopia of the Dixie-licious nuts.
Last Tuesday, acting on a tip from a citizen forwarded to them by the Grapeland police, investigators from the United States Attorney General's office raided Pennington's home. They believed they found enough to charge the politico with two counts of possession of child pornography and two more counts of possession of child pornography with intent to promote. The four charges carried a total of $100,000 in bonds; Pennington met those the next day and has since gone back to work at a Grapeland feed store he co-owns with other family members.
Back in 2002, while working at a family-owned watermelon shed, Pennington is alleged to have successfully propositioned a 14-year-old boy passing through town with his dad. Money was allegedly exchanged between Pennington and the boy, who claims to have allowed Pennington to perform a sexual act on him. Pennington is further alleged to have photographed the boy, though published reports did not mention whether or not the pictures were sexual in nature.
When the evidence in that case was handed over to a Houston County grand jury, they declined to indict Pennington due to "insufficient evidence." (Dark rumors swirl in the comments section of some stories about the way that case was disposed; look 'em up if you are so inclined.)
As of last week, Grapeland Mayor George Pierson was standing by Pennington until he has his day in court.
"Refrain from this chatter unless you know the truth," Pierson advised gossiping Grapelanders via TV station KTRE. "He hasn't been tried, so as far as I am concerned he's still considered to be a good friend of mine and to be a councilman for the city of Grapeland."
"He's supported me as a councilman in the city. I'll support him," Pierson added, and pointed out Pennington's long record of service to the community, which preceded his seat on city council with a stint as president of the local chamber of commerce. Pennington also served as a church organist and the announcer at the annual coronation of the Peanut Queen; he is also a member of the executive board of the Texas Watermelon Association. Back at Baylor University, his alma mater, Pennington had served as president of the Graduate Students Association.
"We all have done something wrong. Some of us just didn't get caught," said Pierson. Amen, mayor. There is not a one among us without sin.
But this is hardly a case of petty theft, DWI, or tax-cheating...
Pennington has refused comment on the case, and is retaining his seat on city council.