A 72-year-old retired minister was sentenced to up to 25 years in prison for sexually abusing two children.

Cohelia Jones, who pleaded guilty but has maintained his innocence, drew sentences of 25 years for aggravated sexual assault and 20 years for indecency with a child, to run concurrently.

"For you to have committed these monstrous acts for your own personal gratification is beyond comprehension and intolerable," Judge Suzanne Stovall said Friday during sentencing.

Jones was pastor of the New Bethlehem Baptist Church for 18 years before retiring in the early 1990s.

Prosecutor Robert Bartlett said Jones sexually assaulted a half-dozen youngsters over a span of almost 20 years. The crimes began in 1976 and continued through at least 1993, authorities said.

Some church members attended the sentencing to show support for their former pastor, once considered a pillar of the community.

"They still don't believe he's guilty, or (they) think he should be forgiven," Bartlett said in Saturday's editions of the Houston Chronicle.

A woman, now 24, testified that Jones' sexual indecencies began when she was 5 and grew worse over the next 10 years. She told Jones that his abuse had "eaten at my soul."

Bartlett said evidence showed that about the same time, Jones also began to prey on two boys -- now a 29-year-old musician and a 30-year-old plant worker -- who were lured into bathing with Jones as preschoolers and were subjected to sexual aggression for 10 or more years.

Bartlett said Jones equivocated Friday about his guilt, saying at one point that he would "accept responsibility" but also claiming that his accusers were lying.

Stovall told Jones, "the effects of your sexual abuse of these children are deep, pervasive and will last their lifetime."