LEBANON, Ohio (WDTN) – Defense attorney David Anthony Chicarelli described his client as autistic and sexually naive during opening statements of John Austin Hopkins’ trial on Monday at the Warren County Court of Common Pleas in Lebanon. He said he also loved children and his hugging and placing kids on his lap was no different than the behavior of other adults in the gym area.
Hopkins is facing 36 counts of gross sexual imposition after being indicted in June 2019. Each count can carry a maximum of five years in prison. He’s accused of inappropriately touching 28 girls over the course of three months while he taught Physical Education at Clearcreek Elementary School.
“We don’t contest he hugged kids or rubbed them on their backs,” Chicarelli said. “Or he tickled them or a hand may have inadvertently touched a buttock.
“This is the story of a 25-year-old autistic and sexually-naive virgin. Who had dedicated his life to the education of children and whose mental health and mind are in a place that is not sexually aware.”
The prosecution countered by showing statements Hopkins made to police then surveillance video of the gym where he taught gym class.
“I always hug children from the side,” Kraft quoted Hopkins in an interview with Springboro police.
She then played a portion of the interview, showing Hopkins describing how he avoided as much frontal body contact as he could when around students, and would try to maneuver himself so he wasn’t touching the front of his body to a student. Then Kraft aired surveillance video from Hopkins class at the Clearcreek Elementary School gym, where Hopkins was shown hugging a girl around her waist and then lifting her up and putting her on his lap facing him with her knees on top his legs.
David Chicarelli, who is serving as defense counsel along with his son, objected to the video. He said it was never admitted as evidence, but he was overruled by Judge Robert Peeler.
Kraft finished her statement by showing pictures of the 28 girls who were allegedly assaulted by Hopkins. She said the investigation started after a parent had contacted the school. The parent said his daughter had a good day at school because “She got to sit on Mr. Hopkins’ lap.”
“They didn’t know this was about his gratification,” Kraft said. “How would they, they’re 6 years old?”
The opening statements followed jury selection, which lasted most of the day. Fourteen jurors were selected, including two alternates. Eight were men while six were women.
The court will reconvene on Tuesday at 9 a.m.
Last week, Hopkins’ attorney David Chicarelli filed several motions before the trial. One asked the court on March 5 to prevent the testimony of 28 parents whose children were alleged victims of Hopkins.
“Some of the evidence which the defendant anticipates the prosecution will try to offer in this trial is inadmissible as hearsay and that the Court should rule on the exclusion now,” the filing stated. “Because much of the evidence is so prejudicial this Court should enter an order excluding any reference to the matters during (jury selection), opening statement, or otherwise.”
Hopkins is accused of inappropriately touching 28 first-grade girls a total of 36 times during his physical education class at Clearcreek Elementary School. The maximum sentence for one count of gross sexual imposition is five years. He was indicted in June 2019.
Chicarelli filed another motion last week to permit the testimony of Dr. Frederick Peterson, who diagnosed Hopkins with being on the Autism Spectrum Disorder. Chicarelli wrote in his motion that Peterson, an expert in the field. The motion stated that diagnosis would bring into question sexual gratification on Hopkins’ part when having contact with the alleged victims.
According to the subpoena Peterson: “reviewed the approximately three hours of videos offered by the prosecution as evidence of the counts in this indictment. He thoroughly reviewed those videos and along with his experience, testing and interviews reached the conclusion of a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder which has a significant bearing on the main issue in this case of sexual gratification.”
Hopkins was indicted in June 2019. The parents of 12 of the students have filed a federal civil suit against the Springboro school district and Hopkins. The lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages to the families, as well as requiring Springboro Schools to “develop or adopt a curriculum for purposes of training all staff in the identification and prevention of child abuse.”
Other witnesses scheduled for Hopkins criminal trial are several members of the Springboro Police Department as well as Daniel Schroer and Carrie Hester of Springboro Community Schools. Schroer was Springboro’s superintendent until he resigned in August due to “allegations of a financial nature.”
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