Jury finds Shepard guilty

Angie Mayes • Nov 17, 2017 at 1:46 PM

The jury in the Michael Shepard case deliberated an hour and a half Friday morning before it returned a guilty verdict on both counts of statutory rape by an authority figure.

Shepard, who was 36 at the time of the two incidents, had sex with a 16-year-old Wilson Central High School student. Shepard was the softball coach at the school, and the victim was one of the players.

Two days of testimony from the victim, her parents, law enforcement and a teammate, proved the district attorney’s case that Shepard was still an authority figure over the victim, even though he was not actively coaching her when the incidents took place, which was the defense Shepard’s attorney used.

Shepard and the victim had sex two times at a boat ramp off Highway 109, she said on the stand. He did not force her, and she did not protest, Assistant District Attorney Tom Swink said, which meant he did not “rape” her. 

However, state law defines statutory rape by an authority figure as sexual intercourse of a child between 13-17 years old by someone more than four years older than the victim. Since she was 16 and Shepard was 20 years older, that fact fit into the law, Swink said. 

Adam Parrish, Shepard’s attorney, argued because the school year was over and she was not his student or her coach at the time of the incidents, nor did the incidents happen on school grounds or at a school event, he wasn’t an authority figure over her.

Defense witness Kayla Varner, who referred to Shepard as “coach” throughout her testimony, said she still calls him coach because he is an authority figure and is like a father figure to her.

In closing arguments, Assistant District Attorney Justin Harris said the relationship, which was admitted by the defendant, was an “unlawful sexual relationship,” and Shepard was an authority figure. That proof is because he is in a “position of trust, occupational or legal status,” according to Harris.

“He is her coach,” Harris said. “He has a duty to protect and train her, to take care of her. She viewed him as her coach. Who initiated the messages and the sex? We’ve heard Shepard was a Christian, that he was an authority figure and was a good guy. She looked up to him. “

Harris then pointed to a text from Shepard, which read in part, “I’ll never push you away…I worry about how close we are…if this is healthy or unhealthy…I love you to death and will do anything to protect you.”

Harris then referred to other positions when he said, “a preacher is not just a preacher on Sunday. He is a preacher all week. Mr. Shepard is a coach all year. She wants to make him happy and be the best that she can be. He made it illegal.”

Parrish argued the jury had heard some emotional testimony and they were probably emotional about the situation. However, he said, “you need to look at the facts. I pray that you have feelings, but you must not let your heart make the decision. Let logic make it.  Was it illegal? Absolutely. But he wasn’t in a power of trust or authority at the time.”
He alluded male students rarely complain when they have sex with female teachers. 

“Why is that?” Parrish asked. “This case is no difference. The actions of [the victim] are what this is about. I’m not saying she’s a bad girl or anything. The occasion is wrong, but that is not why we’re here. I’m not here to attack a great kid, a very mature kid.”

Parrish then offered a lesser inclusion of aggravated statutory rape for the jury to consider. But the jury ignored it. Instead, they agreed on the top two counts of statutory rape by an authority figure.

After the verdict, Swink said, “justice was done for this victim for this family.”

The family was relieved after the verdict.

“We’re very pleased with the district attorney’s case and the way he represented us,” said the victim’s father.

Parrish was not available for comment after the verdict was read.

Shepard will be sentenced Jan. 19 at 1 p.m. in Wilson County criminal court Judge Brody Kane’s courtroom.

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