A former Hancock High School teacher who pleaded guilty to sexual battery of a student has filed a post-conviction relief petition. The petition states new evidence has arisen showing he had a mental disability that was not known at the time of his plea.
In 2014, Hiram “Jay” Coker, 46, entered an open plea in Hancock County Circuit Court to two counts of sexual battery.
The crimes occurred during the 2011-2012 school year when the victim was a sophomore.
During his plea hearing, Coker made a tearful statement in which he admitted to having a sexual relationship with the victim and apologized for his actions.
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“I am so terribly sorry to the family and everyone involved,” Coker said. “I betrayed everyone. I knew it was wrong and it is all my fault. I was supposed to be a teacher and mentor, and I was not.”
Former Circuit Court Judge John Gargiulo accepted the plea and sentenced Coker to 20 years in prison, which must be served day-for-day.
The maximum sentence was 30 years for each charge.
By entering an open plea, Coker gave up his right to an appeal should he have been found guilty by a jury.
Last week, however, Coker, through his attorney Rufus Aldridge, filed a post-conviction relief petition in Hancock County Circuit Court.
According to state law, convicts are allowed to file post-conviction petitions if information arises that “could not have been discovered by the exercise of due diligence at the time of trial, as well as being almost certainly conclusive that it would cause a different result.”
In the petition, Coker claims that some time after the plea, a “latent mental disability” surfaced.
“In this case, there exists evidence of material facts, not previously presented and heard, that requires vacation of the sentence in the interest of justice,” Coker said in the petition.
The petition includes three manila folders of records which are attached to the petition; however, those records have been sealed by the court.
The petition has been assigned to Circuit Court Judge Chris Schmidt. It is unclear if Schmidt will issue a written ruling or conduct a hearing.