WARREN COUNTY, Ohio (FOX19) - The defense began presenting its case Thursday in the trial of Austin Hopkins, a former PE teacher accused of having sexual contact with first-grade girls.
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.
Springboro police called several parents in following the claims to have them watch more than 200 hours of surveillance video so they could identify their children.
In the videos, Hopkins is seen kissing and caressing his alleged victims.
However the defense team says the affection he shows toward these six- and seven-year-old girls was innocent. They say he suffers from Autism spectrum disorder and that he is “psychologically impaired to the point that he is unaware his conduct could even be construed as sexual in nature," Defense Attorney David Chicarelli said.
A video shown to the court showed the final minutes of Hopkins’ police interrogation interview with Springboro Det. Terry Dunkel.
“It’s time to come to Jesus on this,” the video shows Dunkel telling Hopkins.
But Hopkins replied there was no sexual feeling involved in his interactions with the girls.
“I clearly have made a mistake (...) in choosing what moments, like, when that’s acceptable,” Hopkins told Dunkel.
In court, Dunkel says he believes Hopkins was “manipulating" and "grooming” the children.
Chicarelli countered, saying, “Every time you (Dunkel) brought it up, he said, ‘No, I did not have any sexual gratification.' I think he said ‘Hell no’ a couple of times.”
Later the defense called a psychologist to the stand, one they say is an expert in evaluating Hopkins’ high-functioning autism. He claimed the behaviors in the video “were not sexual in nature.”
The jury is expected to get the case Friday. If they find him guilty Hopkins could spend uptimes to five years in prison on each of the 36 counts against him.