A former Hancock High School coach will serve 30 years in prison after a jury found her guilty of molesting a child during the 2009-10 school year.
The jury convicted Leslie Danielle DeWitt on two counts of unlawful touching (molestation) of a child for lustful purposes, but acquitted her on the two more serious charges of sexual battery.
Circuit Judge Larry Bourgeois sentenced DeWitt to 15 years in prison for each count, to be served consecutively. It is the maximum sentence allowed by law. She is not eligible for early release or parole and must serve every day of the sentence. Upon release, she will be required to register as a sex offender.
“The most precious asset that our community has is their children,” Bourgeois told DeWitt at sentencing. “The most precious asset was entrusted to you — you manipulated that child and took advantage of the trust given to you. You’ve shown no remorse whatsoever.”
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The jury deliberated for about three hours before returning a verdict.
Bourgeois threatened to hold people in contempt of court Monday after a crowd began cheering when the first not-guilty verdict was read by the jury.
DeWitt faced a five-count indictment, but one molestation charge was thrown out.
The former assistant basketball coach was accused of having a sexual relationship with the then-16-year-old student between Dec. 1, 2009 and July 30, 2010. The student, who was a star player on the team, reported the crime three years later when she was in college.
The investigation into the case began in January 2013 when the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office was contacted by the victim’s mother, who said the girl had disclosed she was sexually abused during high school. The mother sought medical treatment for her daughter, who had suffered depression and anxiety as a result of the abuse.
“The victim testified that Dewitt initially disclosed her feelings for the student in the 8th grade,” Assistant District Attorney Chris Daniel said. “After years of grooming, the defendant committed various sexual acts of sexual molestation on her over a period of approximately eight months.”
Daniel prosecuted the case alongside Assistant District Attorney Alison Baker.
“We are very pleased for the victim and her family to receive justice today,” District Attorney Joel Smith said. “They have been through so much and stayed strong throughout the process. Today’s guilty verdicts provide strong accountability, justice and hopefully some closure for this family.”
The trial lasted five days with jury selection beginning Tuesday. The state presented its case Wednesday and Thursday. The defense presented and rested its case on Friday.
During closing arguments, DeWitt’s defense attorney, Jim Davis, criticized the prosecution’s case as having a “lack of physical evidence,” which amounted to a sex toy and some pornographic DVD cases found in the defendant’s bedroom.
Davis said there was reasonable doubt as to the victim’s testimony that DeWitt abused her with the sex toy, reminding jurors of her husband’s testimony. He said and his wife had bought the toy at an adult video store in Slidell in late June 2010, the only purchase they ever made there.
Davis presented evidence of a bank statement that showed a purchase was made at that store June 28, 2010 — three months after the time the student said DeWitt used it to abuse her.
The prosecution countered, pointing out the bank statement did not specifically say what item was purchased.
The state’s other witnesses included several school officials who testified they had concerns over DeWitt’s close relationship with the student. Their testimony, as prosecutors said, showed a situation of concern at every level of the school’s administration.
Another of the state’s witnesses, a friend of the student, said DeWitt displayed “obsessive behavior” toward the student. Daniel underscored this in his closing argument Monday.
“She was obsessed,” Daniel said to the jury, “just like other witnesses told you — obsessed with this student.”