FLORENCE, S.C. (WBTW) — A man accused of kidnapping a Florence pastor in December pleaded guilty Thursday to kidnapping and carjacking in federal court, according to Derek Shoemake with the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of South Carolina.

Joseph Allen Wright, 39, of Fayetteville pleaded guilty without a plea agreement at the McMillan Federal Building in Florence, Shoemake said.

Judge Sherri A. Lydon accepted the plea, Shoemake said. Wright will be sentenced after a report is prepared by the United States Probation Office.

Wright faces a maximum of life in prison for the kidnapping charge and 15 years in prison for the carjacking charge.

Police initially responded to the area of Cherokee Road and Coit Street on Dec. 21. They later determined that Wright had abducted the pastor of the Immanuel Baptist Church by forcing him into a vehicle located in the church parking lot at about 10:20 a.m. and leaving at a high rate of speed, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Joseph Allen Wright
(Courtesy: Florence County Detention Center)

Church employees realized almost immediately that something was wrong and contacted police, who tried unsuccessfully to contact the pastor on his cell phone. Police then began using other electronic means to locate him, including obtaining information from OnStar, cell phone providers and banking records. 

Police located the stolen vehicle in Lumberton shortly after 12 p.m. and notified police there, the release said. Lumberton police then found the pastor and took Wright into custody without incident.

In February, Wright’s victim, Pastor Charles Pittman of Immanuel Baptist Church, said he believes in forgiveness, but also accountability.

“I think sometimes there is a confusion about forgiveness, that forgiveness means there are no consequences,” Pittman said. “In cases like this, I do think that justice needs to be served.”

Pittman said Wright took him at knifepoint from his office. They entered Pittman’s car and drove north. He said he prayed silently during the drive.

“I didn’t know if I had seen my family for the last time, worked my last day,” Pittman said. “I asked the Lord for wisdom. I asked the Lord for protection. I asked him to give me direction what to do.”

Pittman said he didn’t think something like this would ever happen to him.

“It was intense. He was making a lot of demands. It was scary. I’ll be honest with you — it was frightening,” Pittman said. “It was an experience I sure don’t want to go through again, but at the same time, my faith has been strengthened through it.”