Shepard trial commences

Angie Mayes • Nov 15, 2017 at 7:45 PM

Testimony by the father of the victim in the case of a Wilson Central High School softball coach accused of two counts of statutory rape by an authority figure brought to light a number of things previously unknown by the public. 

The opening day of testimony was Wednesday in Michael Shepard’s trial, which is expected to last through the week.

The charges, which are based on sexual acts that allegedly took place June 16, 2016 and June 23, 2016, were the result of Wilson County grand jury indictments.

Shepard, who was 37 at the time, had “developed a crush” on the victim, who was 16 at the time, even though his relationship with her “started out with the purest of intentions,” the victim’s father said in a conversation recorded by the father and a text sent by Shepard to the father. Shepard also noted in the text he had been driving over a bridge, trying to talk himself into driving off the bridge.

The victim’s father said on the stand he first realized the relationship between the two was of concern in April 2016, when Shepard increased the number of texts to the victim. At that time, she was told by her parents to cut off communication with Shepard.

She did not, and at the end of June, her father went to her grandparent’s house, where she was staying for the night and took her phone. There, he read the messages between Shepard and his daughter.

He wrote a text to Shepard telling him they had to meet and talk about the situation. The victim’s father said he wanted to take his pistol to the meeting but was talked out of the idea by his wife.

After his conversation with Shepard, he told him if he had brought his pistol, Shepard “would be laying out on the ground.”

The victim’s father showed items such as the number of texts between Shepard and his daughter. From June 22, 2016 through June 26, 2016, there were 632 messages sent between the two, according to records provided to the father from his cellular service provider, Verizon. Shepard sent 337 of the texts to the victim, while she sent 295 to him.

The victim was a softball player since she was 4 or 5, her parents both said on the stand. She played on recreational leagues in Mt. Juliet, on school teams and on travel teams such as the Tennessee Illusions.

Her family first met Shepard when her father coached her younger siblings on a recreation team. The director of the league asked the father if Shepard could be an assistant coach and his daughter could play on the team. At that time, the victim’s father thought of Shepard as just another coach.

When the victim began playing softball at Wilson Central, it was for Shepard. The father said although the softball season was in the spring, being a member of the team was a yearlong commitment. There were clinics, fundraisers, car washes, ticket sales and more.

The players even ate with the coach in his classroom, where he taught algebra, the victim’s mother said in earlier testimony.

The defendant’s attorney, Adam Parrish, said his client is not guilty because he was not an authority figure over the victim at the time of the incidents. He said it was a matter of opportunity, rather than one of him as over her such as a student in his class.

She was never a student in his class, her parents said. 

After the conversation and texts the father acquired, he took the information to Wilson Country sheriff’s investigators.

Sheriff’s Detective Walker Woods interviewed Shepard after he received the information. The recorded conversation was played in court. 

Woods also said swabs of both the victim and Shepard were acquired for DNA sequencing, along with a used condom that was known to be Shepard’s, a condom wrapper, the victim’s underwear and a towel in Shepard’s vehicle. The evidence was all sent to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation for testing.

Throughout the interview, Shepard said he could not answer several questions such as, “Did you have sex with the victim?” and “What is your relationship with the victim?”

Woods said although they did not have the test results back from the TBI, police procedure allows “us to infer but not manufacture” information to “get truthful statements.”

The trial will continue Thursday in Judge Brody Kane’s courtroom with the victim and other officers expected to testify.

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