HANCOCK COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - A former high school coach was sentenced to 30 years in prison Monday after being found guilty of two counts of touching a child for lustful purposes. Leslie DeWitt was found not guilty on the two more serious charges of sexual battery.
DeWitt will have to serve every day of the 30-year sentence without the possibility of early release. She will also have to register as a sex offender.
DeWitt, 34, is the former Hancock High School girls basketball coach accused of having a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old former player. DeWitt was an assistant coach for the basketball team in 2009 and 2010.
"The victim testified that DeWitt initially disclosed her feelings for the student in the eighth grade. After years of grooming, the defendant committed various sexual acts of sexual molestation on her over a period of approximately eight months during her sophomore year of high school," said Assistant District Attorney Chris Daniel.
Family members on both sides hugged each other and cried as the verdict was read. Dewitt's attorney, Jim Davis, said his client is very disappointed with the verdict, and he plans to file for a new trial by the end of the week. If that's denied, Davis plans to file an appeal to the state Supreme Court.
During Monday's sentencing, Judge Larry Bourgeois told DeWitt, "You manipulated and took advantage of the trust that was given to you. You show no remorse whatsoever. She'll be paying for that loss the rest of her life. That loss comes from your hands. The most precious asset in our community is our children. It's our future. It was entrusted to you. You violated that sacred trust."
Over the course of the three-day trial, jurors heard from DeWitt, her accuser, and several witnesses. Attorney Jim Davis said the case was that of betrayal of a player against her coach. DeWitt said the allegations against her are "100 percent false."
During closing arguments, prosecutors said this is a case of betrayal of a girl who trusted and admired her coach. Prosecutors said DeWitt used her friendship with the girl's mother to gain access and "prey upon her and abuse her at will."
Davis said during his closing arguments DeWitt is "being punished for trying to help somebody." He told the jurors there are "conflicts and lack of evidence." He also pointed to a three-year delay in reporting the alleged crimes.
"This is a case of rampant doubt," David said.
The defense questioned the qualifications of one juror, and asked for a mistrial. But that motion was denied by Judge Bourgeois.