RICHLAND, Mo. (June 19, 2014) — Most people taking a plea bargain plead guilty to lesser charges. However, for former Richland High School assistant girls’ basketball coach Trevor Franklin, his plea agreement with the Pulaski County Prosecutor’s Office included an upgrade of charges from a Class D felony of sexual misconduct with a student to a Class C felony of first-degree child welfare endangerment.
Unlike many people charged with felonies, Franklin, 27, of Stoutland, has almost no prior history with the Missouri court system.
His only other guilty plea in online court records is to an incident in January of this year in which he failed to wear a seat belt in Camden County. His wife filed for divorce on Dec. 10, 2012, a few weeks after the student-coach relationship ended, but that court case was dismissed by the parties on Feb. 13, 2013, barely two months later.
Even though the amended charges to which Franklin pleaded guilty on Monday don’t specifically cite his sexual activities as a teacher and coach, he’ll be required to permanently surrender his teaching license and complete outpatient sex offender counseling.
He is also barred during the five-year term of his probation from contacting the former student-athlete with whom he had relations and is barred from “being on the grounds of any school or being around any children unsupervised, except for functions involving his own children,” according to a prepared statement by Pulaski County Prosecutor Kevin Hillman.
If Franklin complies with the terms of his probation, he will have only 10 day in jail and won’t face prison time other than 90 days shock time at the discretion of his probation officer. However, the consequences are much worse with the upgraded felony charge if he violates his probation terms — seven years instead of four years in state prison.
“This plea agreement brings a difficult case to a close and with an outcome that I am satisfied will prevent the defendant from trying to victimize any other students and send a message to others that conduct which jeopardizes students will not be tolerated,” Hillman said in a prepared statement. “The plea agreement in this case was done with the consent of the victim and her family and I want to commend both her and her family for their assistance during this case and for having the courage to report this incident so that this conduct could be stopped immediately.”
The incident referred to by Hillman was part of an ongoing pattern of behavior during the 2012-13 basketball season between Franklin and a girls’ basketball player which included “over 4300 text messages between them, with Mr. Franklin sending over 400 more to the victim than she sent to him” during a period of about two weeks in the second half of November that year, according to a report by a state patrol sergeant who investigated the case.
The victim was a junior at the time; Franklin was then 25 years old. Court records show Franklin was not only married but also had children at the time of the student-coach relationship.
The student told the investigating sergeant that “she has limited sexual experience,” and said her coach’s sexual comments “made her uncomfortable and she thought Mr. Franklin was a ‘creeper.’” She initially told Franklin that she “would not have sexual intercourse with a man until she was married,” but Franklin’s response included “(leading) her to believe he was interested in her romantically even telling her he planned to divorce his wife after the first of the year.”
The student’s feelings about Franklin changed from believing he was a “creeper” to becoming “romantically attached” by late November; she told the investigating sergeant that Franklin “not only expressed his interest in her sexually but also expressed his interest in having a long term relationship with her, even talking about the two of them moving in together after she graduated from high school.”
The relationship moved from text messages to physical contact, with the two kissing at a fast food restaurant and on the Richland High School grounds when school was not in session. They “also held hands on a school bus while traveling from a girls basketball game,” according to the sergeant’s report.
By Nov. 26 of that year, Franklin “developed a ‘plan’ for him and the victim to be alone” following a basketball tournament at Laquey. That plan involved Franklin going out to his truck first, with the girl waiting “approximately five minutes” before meeting in the truck because Franklin did not “want people to think it was weird” for the two to walk out to the truck together. Instead, the girl said “she did not want to go outside by herself and asked that they leave together and he agreed.”
That was confirmed by video from the Laquey school surveillance system of the parking lot.
The girl initially said she didn’t want to get in the truck, but eventually did so. Franklin then initiated not only kissing but also sexual touching, at which point the girl said she didn’t want him to touch her in sexual places. After what the girl said was five to ten minutes, Franklin offered to drive the girl to her car but she declined, got out of the truck, and rebuffed another sexual advance by pushing Franklin’s hand away.
Franklin then tried to eliminate evidence of the relationship, and “instructed her to delete all the text messages sent and received between them.”
The electronic communication between the girl and her coach included not only text messages but also photos of the girl’s face and then of her in her bra and underwear, which Franklin told the girl caused him to become sexually aroused. The text messages included explicit questions by Franklin and descriptions by him of what he wanted to do with her in a shower; he said his wife was not willing to “be ‘freaky’ in bed.”
Franklin also talked to the girl’s sister, who the state patrol sergeant said “was aware of the relationship,” and asked the girl’s sister if she thought the victim would perform specific activities.
Near the end of their relationship, Franklin gave the girl a profanity-laced warning “which she took to mean to never tell anyone about their relationship.”
While the victim’s sister knew about the relationship, Franklin took steps to conceal it from his wife and from others.
According to the girl, Franklin “frequently asked the victim to come to his home while his wife and children were gone and on the morning before their relationship was revealed, he asked her to skip school and come to his home as his wife was out of town.”
After Franklin’s efforts to conceal the relationship failed and prosecutors became involved, he was charged on March 13, 2013 and Associate Circuit Judge Ronda Cortesini set his bond at $50,000 cash or surety by a bail bondsman. On May 22 of last year, Cortesini conducted a preliminary hearing, found that probable cause existed for the original Class D felony charge, and bound the case over to circuit court where Franklin waived formal arraignment. On June 5, Circuit Judge Bill Hickle agreed to a request both Franklin’s lawyer and the Pulaski County Prosecutor’s Office to move the case to Phelps County.
The case was scheduled several times for jury trial in mid-to-late 2013 and early 2014, but by May 5, both Franklin and the Pulaski County Prosecutors’ Office had agreed to the plea bargain. Hickle agreed on June 16 — Monday — to the proposed plea with suspended imposition of sentence.
The full terms of the probation, according to Hillman, are that Franklin “will immediately serve ten days of shock time in the county jail, be on five years of supervised probation without the possibility of early release, serve ninety days of shock jail time at the discretion of his probation officer, complete outpatient sex offender counseling, permanently surrender his teaching license, complete 80 hours of community service, pay $300 to the Pulaski County Law Enforcement Restitution Fund and pay restitution for counseling of the victim and her family. In addition, during the term of his probation, the defendant is prohibited from contacting the victim and his prohibited from being on the grounds of any school or being around any children unsupervised, except for functions involving his own children.”
Hillman also complimented Richland R-IV School District officials, the Richland Police Department, and the Missouri State Highway Patrol “for the quick reporting and thorough investigation of this matter, resulting in this plea of guilty” on Monday.
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