CANTON — A judge has thrown out a sexual battery charge against a former McKinley High School swim coach based on legal grounds.
Stark County Common Pleas Judge Chryssa Hartnett issued the ruling late last week in the case of Sam Seiple, who was facing a third-degree felony.
Seiple, 59, of Jackson Township pleaded guilty in 2017 to a separate misdemeanor charge of unlawful sexual conduct with a minor. The longtime coach admitted engaging in sexual acts multiple times from 2014 to 2015 with a then-16-year-old girl.
The subsequent indictment alleged Seiple had a sexual relationship from December 1995 to May 1996 with another swimmer he coached when she was younger than 18.
Central to her ruling is what the judge said was a negotiated term between the prosecution and defense that a criminal case wouldn’t be pursued involving the second accuser.
Hartnett wrote that her five-page ruling is based on a procedural issue, noting she wasn’t “permitted to make any assessment regarding the guilt or innocence of the defendant at this juncture.”
She also wrote the ruling is “not an exoneration in any form.”
Messages seeking comment were left Thursday for Seiple’s attorney, Eugene O’Byrne.
Stark County Prosecutor John Ferrero issued a statement: “At the time the first case resolved, the victim in the second case did not want our office to pursue charges,” he wrote. “After further reflection, she later informed us that she wanted our office to bring a criminal action.
“While we respect the court’s decision regarding the second case, we respectfully disagree with the court’s perception regarding pretrial negotiations that occurred off the record in the first case,” Ferrero added. “We are in contact with the victim who is considering the court’s decision, and we will make a determination on how to proceed after we receive further input from her.”
In the spring of 2017, prosecutors had begun investigating allegations of Seiple’s sexual misconduct involving high school swimmers he coached. At least two swimmers were linked to the allegations, Hartnett wrote.
Those two were among the witnesses subpoenaed to the grand jury in July 2017, which ultimately resulted in the defendant’s guilty plea to one count of unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, a first-degree misdemeanor. That case stemmed from the allegations of one former swimmer he coached.
Seiple’s conduct was a crime because of his role as a coach despite the age of legal sexual consent being 16 in Ohio.
At that time, both the prosecution and defense were aware the second accuser had come forward with allegations from a much earlier time period, the judge’s ruling said. As a result, the defense was hesitant to proceed with a plea in the original case if additional charges could be forthcoming, Hartnett wrote.
But prosecutors said in the presence of the court that the second accuser did not wish to pursue criminal charges and that she had come forward in support of the other former swimmer, according to Hartnett’s ruling. The prosecutor’s office said it didn’t intend to pursue more charges, the judge wrote.
However, “despite its previous representations to the contrary, approximately 10 months later, on May 7, 2018, the state filed a secret indictment charging” Seiple with one count of felony sexual battery stemming from alleged sexual conduct with the second former swimmer.
Hartnett found the potential unavailability of evidence, such as phone records, due to the lengthy passage of time, represented further concern of prejudice to the defendant.
Further, the judge acknowledged in her opinion “that a victim of a systematic crime like that of sex abuse is certainly entitled to take time to be ready to disclose the abuse.” The ruling also noted that the second accuser acknowledged she disclosed the alleged abuse “to a responsible adult during (the time frame in question) ... (but) that person chose not to report the abuse to authorities,” Hartnett wrote.
Additionally, the judge made clear in the ruling that her “view of the underlying conduct giving rise to the charge filed in this case plays no part at this stage, regardless of how potentially abhorrent the court may find that alleged conduct to be,” Hartnett wrote.
In the prior case, Seiple resigned from his position with Canton City Schools and permanently surrendered his coaching credentials. Seiple, who had been McKinley’s swim coach and director of the C.T. Branin Natatorium since 1994, was ordered to register as a sex offender for 15 years. Under the plea agreement, Seiple was charged with the misdemeanor rather than a more serious felony.
In that case, Hartnett sentenced Seiple to 180 days in jail but suspended all but two.
Fred Scott, who heads the criminal division of the county prosecutor’s office, had said last June that it was later determined the new charge, stemming from the second accuser, could be filed. The woman also had asked prosecutors to pursue the case, Scott had said.
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