20 witnesses, including young girls, testify in ex-Springboro teacher’s child sex crime trial

Prosecutors called 20 witnesses Wednesday in the trial of a former Springboro teacher accused of 36 counts of gross sexual imposition on girls in his first-grade gym class, including parents and children who testified about being touched under their clothes and on their “privates.”

John Austin Hopkins, 25, of Springboro, is accused of child sex crimes at Clearcreek Elementary School between December 2018 and March 2019.

“Sick to my stomach. Awful,” a sixth-grade teacher who had worked with Hopkins when he was a substitute testified about her reaction to learning of the charges involving her daughter.

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Hopkins’ lawyers continued to question the testimony compared to the videos upon which the charges are based. The videos are played during each parent’s time on the witness stand.

Jill Hatheway, a first-grade teacher at the school, recalled one of the 28 alleged victims in class after Hopkins was removed from her class saying, “He’s going to come back” in response to comments from other students.

“He said we’re going to get married. We’re going to get married,” Hatheway testified the girl also said.

Hatheway also testified that Hopkins once said to her about the girl, now 8, that he could envision the girl later in his life.

Hatheway said she gave Hopkins a look, and he responded, “I said 20 years older,” she testified.

Hopkins’ lawyers questioned the teacher and other witnesses in attempts to undermine or weaken their testimony.

“You can’t talk about what you saw in another video,” lawyer David Allen Chicarelli said during cross-examination following viewing of some of close to 300 hours of school surveillance video collected during the investigation.

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The videos show Hopkins move the girls, as young as 5, around on his lap and put his hands between their legs and give long, frontal hugs, sometimes as other students competed for his attention during chaotic classes, balls flying, children running around.

Chicarelli and his son David Anthony Chicarelli, took turns cross-examining the prosecution witnesses.

“Was she angry because he was gone?” the elder Chciarelli asked a parent who said her daughter was angry since Hopkins was removed from the class.

“I’m not sure,” the mother answered.

In questions to the children, the Chicarellis sometimes noted differences between their statements to interviewers at the Child Advocacy Center and testimony in court. The lawyers also pointed out when the children climbed onto his lap without encouragement.

Springboro detective Terry Dunkel testified about his investigation, including his interview of Hopkins on the day the detective was contacted about the case in March 2019.

Dunkel testified that Hopkins told him he only gave “high fives and side hugs” to first-graders during an 80-minute interview.

If the children come up in front for a hug, “I try to turn them to the side,” Hopkins said in a recording played during the trial Wednesday.

After Dunkel urged Hopkins to be truthful, Hopkins said, “Man to man, it is not sexual.” He later said he didn’t remember the case noted from the videos by Dunkel.

“I wasn’t trying to take advantage of anybody,” Hopkins said under further testimony. “I don’t walking into school saying, ‘This is going to happen today,” Hopkins said later in the interview with detectives. “Things happen.”

As Dunkel and another detective took turns in questioning, Hopkins said, “I’m not in it for sexual gain.”

Earlier in the day, parents testified about their daughters’ unusual behavior as the case was developing.

“I want to make sure I understand what you are saying. She was defending the defendant to you?” prosecutor Julie Kraft said, pointing at Hopkins.

The girl who defended Hopkins testified Wednesday that she and Hopkins, who also coached at the Coffman Y in Springboro, had a “special relationship” and “secret talks.”

She said Hopkins touched her under her shirt on her back.

“He talked about me visiting him at his Y,” she said.

She admitted referring to Hopkins as her fiancée but said she didn’t know what the word meant at the time.

Judge Robert Peeler said 17 witnesses testified on Tuesday and warned the jury that the trial, scheduled to end Friday, likely was to continue into next week.

Peeler later told the jury he expected they would be able to begin deliberations Friday.

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