Ex-minister goes on trial for allegedly raping prostitutes in Fresno

FRESNO - A criminal trial started this morning for a former Fresno minister accused of raping four prostitutes at knifepoint in fall 2007.

Anthony Ireland lured the prostitutes into his car by offering to pay them for sex, prosecutor Becky Gong told a Fresno County Superior Court jury in opening statements. But once Ireland drove the women to a secluded area, he pulled out a knife, put the weapon to their throat and raped them, Gong said.

After the assault, the women ran, so they were never paid, she said.

If convicted, Ireland, 25, faces life in prison.

Attorney Antonio Alvarez, who represents Ireland, painted a different picture. He said Ireland had consensual sex with the women. Alvarez also said a prostitute told Ireland to use a knife on her to heighten the sexual experience. Because Ireland enjoyed the experience, Alvarez said, his client asked the other prostitutes if he could hold a knife while having sex.

Ireland is innocent because he never stabbed the woman or hurt them, Alvarez said. But he may be guilty of not paying for the sex, Alvarez said.

Alvarez told the jury the key question is this: “When a prostitute negotiates payment for sex and doesn’t get paid, is that rape?”

Police said Ireland was a licensed minister at the International Crossroads Community Church in Fresno, where he taught Bible classes. He also is a registered sex offender, police said. Church leaders revoked Ireland's ministerial license soon after his arrest in November 2007.

The trial in Judge Gary Orozco’s courtroom is expected to take three weeks.