Former coach on trial for alleged sex abuse of player

PORT CLINTON A former Port Clinton assistant softball and basketball coach went on trial Tuesday aft
Sarah Weber
May 24, 2010

PORT CLINTON

A former Port Clinton assistant softball and basketball coach went on trial Tuesday afternoon on 55 counts of sexual misconduct with a former player.

Erin Baker, 26, of Port Clinton pleaded not guilty to charges of sexual battery and unlawful sexual conduct with a minor. The girl, now a 17-year-old senior at Port Clinton High School, said the abuse happened between her freshman and sophomore years of high school, when she was 14-16 years old.

The girl reported the inappropriate relationship to Port Clinton High School math teacher and former softball coach Vicki Gresh in October 2007, one year after the abuse ended.

Baker first met the girl in her eighth-grade year, when Baker volunteered as a coach for the girls' middle-school basketball team.

In her opening statement, assistant prosecutor Lorrain Croy told the jury of seven men and five women that Baker and the girl formed a close relationship, strengthened by the girl's need for a mentor while her father was ill. The girl decided to cut off the contact after her father died of cancer in 2006, Croy said.

Baker and the victim were friends at first and spent time together outside the realm of school and sports, going to movies and out to dinner, Croy said. The relationship turned abusive when Baker began kissing the girl and eventually initiated a sexual relationship. Baker would buy expensive clothing and sporting event tickets for the victim, expecting sexual favors in return.

"It was during this time the authority figure in (the girl's) life took control of her and these sex offenses occurred," Croy said.

Baker's attorney, Thomas DeBacco, countered in his opening arguments that the victim was friends with Baker for years and never once mentioned abuse to her family, teachers or friends.

"The evidence will not square with her terribly irresponsible accusation," DeBacco said.

Baker had a record of excellence in sports and earned titles in softball and basketball when she was a student at Port Clinton High School, DeBacco said. She played basketball for the University of Tennessee at Martin before she suffered a dislocated shoulder that ended her basketball career.

"She wanted to help people grow as athletes on the basketball court," DeBacco said.

He added that Baker was happily married.

Gresh was the first witness to take the stand, describing the day the girl disclosed the abuse. Gresh said the girl visited her home in October 2007 to show her a quilt family friends made from her late father's clothes.

During the conversation they discussed Baker, who was an assistant coach for Gresh's varsity softball team. Gresh said she noticed the girl, an athlete on that team, had a strained relationship with Baker during the spring 2007 season. The girl cried and said Baker had inappropriately touched her.

Gresh said she was obligated as a mandated reporter for the school district to disclose the abuse to the school guidance office, which contacted police.

The girl, who was next on the witness stand, said she had not planned to tell anyone about the sexual abuse.

She said she was heavily affected by the abuse and her father's illness and death, and she cut herself and swallowed pills on several occasions.

"I had problems. I had nightmares. I had scenes running through my head every day that I was sexually abused," she said. "I couldn't get it out of my head."

The girl said she now sees a therapist.

She testified that she continued her relationship with Baker while the abuse was taking place because she was naive and heavily controlled by Baker. Baker would grow angry when she didn't do what Baker wanted.

"I was never my own person for three years of my life because of her," the girl said.

The sexual encounters happened primarily at Baker's apartment, sometimes several times a week, the girl said.

Ottawa County Judge Paul Moon called for a recess, with the trial resuming at 9 a.m. today.