Opening statements in Hopkins trial offer disputed takes on undisputed events

Prosecution shows Austin Hopkins's close encounters with students

WARREN COUNTY, Ohio (FOX19) - The trial of a former PE teacher accused of having sexual contact with first-grade girls began Monday.

John Austin Hopkins was indicted in June 2019 on 36 counts of gross sexual imposition.

Hopkins, who was 25 at the time, was reportedly captured on surveillance video between December 2018 and March 2019 having inappropriate physical contact with 88 first grade girls.

At the time of the incidents, Hopkins was working as a physical education teacher at Clearcreek Elementary and Springboro Intermediate schools.

Though he is accused of touching 88 first graders inappropriately, a grand jury only returned an indictment for 28 students.

In their opening statement, the prosecution played video clips showing Hopkins hugging girls for extended periods of time. One depicted him pulling his face close to the child.

“They are sexual contacts for his own sexual gratification,” Assistant Warren County Prosecutor Julie Kraft said. “The groping, the skin-to-skin touching, the rubbing of them on their bodies, that’s why we’re here today ladies and gentlemen.”

Kraft also referenced the more-than 90 days of surveillance tapes reviewed by Springboro police during their investigation.

She summarized them for the court: “Hour after hour of this man engaging in reprehensible contact with these children for his own sexual gratification. Groping, placing them upon his genitalia, caressing their little bodies, his hands touching their skin. The molestation of 28 children, 28 innocent children.”

Defense Attorney David Chicarelli provided a variation on Kraft’s narrative while acknowledging its factual basis.

“We do not contest the fact that Austin did hug his students, that they crawled into his lap, that sometimes he assisted them getting up into his lap, that he rubbed their backs, that he tickled their tummies and that sometimes, even briefly, his hands were inadvertently placed in areas such as the thighs, the buttocks," Chicarelli said. "We agree that this happened.

“This case," he continued, "is the story of a 25-year-old sexually naive, autistic virgin that has dedicated his entire life to the care and education of children,” Chicarelli said.

During a taped police interview, Hopkins attempted to explain his alleged acts.

“I try to turn to the side so that they’re more on the hip, and I can do kind of a one-arm thing like that, and then that’s it," he said. “I do a lot of high fives, too. Like that’s the first goal is high fives.”

Kraft countered that explanation doesn’t suffice.

“Despite his statement," she said, "one girl after another, after another, was hugged, nuzzled, kisses, had his hands up inside of their shirts and in their vaginal areas.”

Judge Peeler has six days on the court’s calendar for Hopkins’s trio, but he says he believes it could be wrapped up by Friday.

If convicted for gross sexual imposition, Hopkins could face up to five years in prison for each of the 36 counts against him.

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