Crime

Former Hancock coach says sex-abuse claims ‘100 percent false’

Former Hancock High assistant basketball coach Leslie Danielle DeWitt testifies in her own defense in Circuit Court in Bay St. Louis on Friday. DeWitt is accused of having had a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old student between Dec. 1, 2009, and July 30, 2010.
Former Hancock High assistant basketball coach Leslie Danielle DeWitt testifies in her own defense in Circuit Court in Bay St. Louis on Friday. DeWitt is accused of having had a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old student between Dec. 1, 2009, and July 30, 2010. wmuller@sunherald.com

The former Hancock High School assistant basketball coach accused of sexually abusing a student took the stand in her own defense Friday.

Leslie Danielle DeWitt is accused of having had a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old student between Dec. 1, 2009, and July 30, 2010.

When DeWitt’s attorney, Jim Davis, asked what she thought of the allegations, she said, “They are absolutely and totally 100 percent false.”

She admitted to holding and cuddling the girl, but denied it was sexual. She said she was comforting the student because her parents were going through a divorce.

Assistant District Attorney Allison Baker asked DeWitt if she felt emotionally tied to the student.

“I wouldn’t say that,” DeWitt said.

Baker then read from a transcript of DeWitt’s interview with Hancock County sheriff’s investigators, where she said she did feel emotionally tied to the student.

Backer also asked why DeWitt would send a text message saying, “Should I turn myself in?” The student’s mother testified Wednesday she had received that text message.

The reason for the emotional tie and DeWitt’s explanation of the text message had been redacted from the interview for the trial because Judge Larry Bourgeois had ruled it inadmissible. But he reversed that ruling after Davis argued DeWitt couldn’t fully answer Baker’s questions without the redacted portions.

DeWitt had told investigators she bonded with the student because they both had been abused as children. And she said she was going to turn herself in for failing to report the student’s earlier abuse, which is a misdemeanor crime in Mississippi.

“(DeWitt) has always been steadfast in that as the reason she was going to turn herself in,” Davis said.

But Baker pointed out DeWitt gave a different reason when confronted by the mother, who recorded the conversation. In the audio recording, when the the mother asked DeWitt why she would send the text, DeWitt could be heard saying she had cuddled and held the teen.

Other witnesses

The first defense witness to testify Friday was DeWitt’s husband, Anthony DeWitt. He discussed testimony given Thursday by Diamondhead police Capt. John Luther, who said officers found a sex toy at DeWitt’s home matching the description of one the student said was used to sexually abuse her.

Anthony DeWitt said he 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 — after the time the student said DeWitt used it to abuse her.

The student’s mother said Wednesday the two families were close. She said her daughter took private basketball lessons from DeWitt for years, and had spent the night at her home.

School administrators and the head coach testified Thursday, saying a meeting had been held to discuss concerns the then–assistant coach’s superiors had about her relationship with the student.

A friend of the student said Thursday that DeWitt displayed “obsessive behavior” and showed “inappropriate” affection.

DeWitt is charged with two counts of sexual battery while in a position of trust and three counts of unlawful touching of a child for lustful purposes.

The trial resumes Monday, when it is likely to conclude.

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