A former Napoleon High School coach and teacher was found guilty Thursday night on three sexually-related charges, while being found not guilty on nine others.
Randy Burke, 56, of Hamler, was found guilty by a Henry County jury on one count of gross sexual imposition, a felony of the fourth degree, and two counts of sexual imposition, misdemeanors of the third degree.
Henry County Common Pleas Court Judge John Collier set Sept. 4 at 1:30 p.m. as the sentencing date. Henry County Prosecutor Gwen Howe-Gebers said Burke could face from 6-18 months in jail for the felony conviction, and 60 days jail for the misdemeanors.
Howe-Gebers said Burke will also have to register as a sex offender.
The conclusion of the emotional trial came Thursday night after three full days of testimony, including Burke taking the stand Thursday morning, and six hours of deliberation by the 12-person jury.
“This has been a trying four days for everybody,” Collier said before reading the verdict from the jury.
Burke had been facing a total of seven gross sexual imposition counts and five sexual imposition counts. Ten of the charges stemmed from incidents reported in 2018, while the other two dated to the fall of 2016.
The 2018 incident in which Burke was found guilty centered on him pulling on the inner lining of cross country shorts worn by a female freshman while the team was getting ready to take team pictures.
A 2016 incident centered on Burke giving a hug to a female athlete from behind with his arms wrapped around her front and hooked under her armpits.
Burke gave no reaction as the verdicts were read by Collier, and the courtroom, packed with supporters of both sides, remained largely quiet.
Howe-Gebers said she, and the family, considered the outcome a victory.
“They’re okay with it (the families of the victims) because their concern at the start of this was they did not want him to be able to coach, teach or be around students,” Howe-Gebers said. “Now with this (sexual offender) registration he can’t do either of those.”
Defense attorney Scott Coon had no comment following the verdict.
Burke was the lone witness called by the defense Thursday morning.
He testified that in his 30 years as a cross country coach he’s coached more than 35 teams and close to 1,000 runners.
Burke testified that he would not rub the stomach of an athlete as he or she was lifting weights as that could lead to injury. One of the alleged incidents included him rubbing the stomach of a female athlete while she was lifting at the bench press.
In the specific incident referred to, Burke testified the female was arching her back while lifting, which could lead to injury, so he placed his hand over her stomach and told her if her it reached his hand she was arching too much.
Burke also testified, in relation to allegations, that touching runners on the shoulders, back and face helps evaluate a runner’s health after a meet or practice.
Burke testified as to an incident involving a female runner where it was alleged he touched her face, lower back and buttocks in a school hallway. Burke said the athlete came to him to tell him she wasn’t feeling well and was dizzy.
“You could see in her eyes she wasn’t feeling well,” Burke testified.
He added she put her hand on his arm, and he put his hand on her lower back to steady her.
“I was concerned she might pass out and hurt herself,” he testified.
He also said another teacher, whom he had been talking to just prior, was in the vicinity.
Burke testified it was common to hug athletes and that it was mutual, meaning athletes would hug him and the other coaches.
The defense presented several photos to the jury Thursday showing Burke giving hugs to female runners and explained these were given to congratulate them on well-run meets. Some of the photos had been published in the Northwest Signal in the 90s when the team won a state title, while others were of Burke and various female athletes posing with an arm around each other for end-of-season banquets.
Burke testified that none of the touching shown in those photos was done for his own sexual gratification. The hugs in those photos were all from the front or side.
He was asked to address the photo in which he was shown giving a female runner a hug from behind. He testified the runner had been injured all season and that was the first meet she had run.
“I hugged her to show her welcome back, we support you,” Burke said.
During their testimony, both the runner and her father, who took the photo in 2016, testified the incident took place prior to the meet being run.
Burke testified he never touched the buttocks of any athlete, and that he would never touch the thigh of an athlete. He admitted he could have touched the lower back and shoulders of an athlete, but not for any sexual gratification.
“It’s not possible to be an effective cross country coach without touching,” Burke testified, adding he did it to check on the health of his runners and never for sexual gratification.
When asked about the specific allegations, Burke testified they were lies made up by the female athletes and a couple of his gym class students.
Prior to the defense resting, both sides agreed to a stipulation presented to the jury that Burke’s work computer was seized during the investigation and a forensics expert found nothing of importance.
During closing arguments, Howe-Gebers reminded the jury on the incident involving the shorts of a female being pulled down that the victim testified she told him no at the time but Burke didn’t stop.
“Imagine how far he had to reach up (her shorts),” Howe-Gebers said.
She also reminded the jury concerning the photo showing a hug from behind, that they should note the positioning of Burke’s arms and that his face was buried in the runner’s neck.
Howe-Gebers pointed out many of Burke’s 23 defense witnesses weren’t around during the 2018 season, when many of the allegations were made, including the pulling of the shorts.
She reminded the jury that direct evidence of sexual gratification wasn’t necessary, that they could infer it based on the type and nature of the touching, as well as the circumstances and personality.
She pointed out those bringing the allegations in 2018 were mostly freshmen and sophomores.
“It was at the beginning of the season, and for some of them it was their first time having him as their coach,” Howe-Gebers said.
“Think about all the citizens who came from the community to defend Randy Burke,” Coon told the jury. “We tried to provide parents from his entire coaching spectrum. None of them saw anything inappropriate. And now we have this group of freshmen and sophomores.”
Coon said it didn’t make sense for Burke to seek sexual gratification out in the open, such as at cross country meets.
Howe-Gebers also reminded evidence had been presented showing Burke had been warned by two different athletics directors at Napoleon High School since 2009 about inappropriate touching.
“The defendant acknowledged it in the letter (of reprimand),” Howe-Gebers said.
She pointed out a different athletics director in 2017 was required to come up with an improvement plan for Burke after he was first not rehired as cross country coach due to complaints filed in 2016, then re-hired following a group of parents fighting for his reinstatement.
“The same behavior he was talked to about in 2009 came up again in 2016 and here we are now,” Howe-Gebers said. “He hasn’t changed.”
She also told the jury just because several parents testified nothing inappropriate happened with their children doesn’t mean it didn’t happen to those who brought the allegations.
“Just because it didn’t happen to their daughter, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen to these young ladies,” Howe-Gebers said.
To prove the gross sexual imposition charges, the state had to show the defendant had sexual contact with the victim and compelled them by force or threat of force.
For sexual imposition, the state had to show Burke caused another to have sexual contact with the defendant when the defendant knew such contact was offensive to the other person.
In both cases, it also had to be shown the actions were done for the defendant’s sexual gratification.