Witness describes former teacher's 'obsession' with teenage victim

Witness describes former teacher's 'obsession' with teenage victim
He faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison followed by at least five years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine. (Photo source: WLOX)

BAY ST. LOUIS, MS (WLOX) - The trial against Leslie Danielle DeWitt, the former Hancock High School basketball coach accused of sexually abusing a female student moved into its second day on Thursday.

DeWitt, 34, is charged with sexual battery while in a position of trust or authority. She was arrested in 2013.

Her accuser, school officials who gave warnings to DeWitt, the victim's friends who described the effect the relationship had on her, and the Diamondhead police investigator who arrested DeWitt on sexual battery charges, were sworn in for testimony.

Only the jury heard what the former student had to say, because the courtroom was cleared before she testified about the relationship that took place between 2009 and 2010.

Former players, coaches, and school leaders painted a picture of an adult obsessed with a teenager.

A former Hancock basketball player who took the stand noted that DeWitt appeared to be obsessed with the victim; repeatedly calling and texting asking to meet up. According to the witness, the repeated calls and messages put the accuser "in a bad mood."

The witness also testified DeWitt took her accuser and another member of the basketball team on trips to New Orleans and other places.

That witness and former Hancock High principal Rhett Ladner testified there was turmoil in the girls' basketball team fueled by jealousy among players because of DeWitt giving special treatment to one girl.

Ladner told the court he learned of the accusations against DeWitt, first giving her a verbal warning and then a formal reprimand, including a meeting with the assistant district superintendent to review policy regarding teacher-student interaction.

Despite the warnings, witnesses said DeWitt didn't back off, and she was eventually fired as a coach but remained as a special education teacher for another year. DeWitt stopped teaching in May 2011.

The court heard from a doctor who treated the victim for anxiety and depression for several years after the alleged abuse on the first day of the trial.  A family member of the victim who recorded a phone conversation of DeWitt referencing the abuse also spoke.

"Both sides have about 20 witnesses subpoenaed. I don't expect we'll be putting on any defense or anything like that until Friday," said DeWitt's attorney, Jim Davis. "The case may go into next week, we'll just have to see."

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