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Defense begins in sex abuse case against Gaston coach

By Cleve R. Wootson Jr.
cwootson@charlotteobserver.com
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Photo Mike Hensdill - The Gaston Gazette
Former high school wrestling coach Scott Goins was in court Thursday, July 17, 2014 as jury selection continued at the Gaston County Courthouse on North Marietta Street in Gastonia. Here, Scott Goins and his lawyer Brent Ratchford talk together.

Defense witnesses in the trial of Gary Scott Goins said the former East Gaston High School wrestling coach was authoritative and passionate about the team he led but not someone who would cross the line and engage in sexual misconduct with students.

Goins, 46, is accused of committing sex crimes against three former members of his wrestling team between 1998 and 2004.

Prosecutors have rested their case, and Goins’ attorney began his defense Monday.

The first witness for Goins was Joseph Coss, a former member of Goins’ wrestling team who transferred after his freshman year but continued to train with Goins and the East Gaston High team because the practices were more intense.

“Wrestling is a family, and Coach Goins is like a father to me,” Coss said.

Coss said he spent time with the Goins family and went to church with them. “He was the one that saved me,” Coss said of Goins. “We’d go out to dinner, lunch, I can’t even imagine how many times. I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for him.”

Under cross-examination by District Attorney Locke Bell, Coss said he met Goins in 2009, a year after the coach had a religious conversion and after the alleged abuse took place.

Prosecution witnesses who testified last week described numerous sexual advances by Goins, often under the guise of training, taking place in the years before Coss met Goins.

One witness for the prosecution last week described sessions of “mental training,” which took place in the teen’s locked bedroom. He said the motivational sessions involved different scenarios narrated by Goins, including one for a car race, while the witnesses’ eyes were closed. The witness said that the first time Goins told him to “grab the throttle,” it was Goins’ finger; the next time “it was his penis in my hand,” the prosecution witness said.

On Monday, Coss said he had also had mental training sessions with Goins, but he said nothing inappropriate happened.

“I was in his classroom with the door open. He sat me down in a chair and told me to imagine being on a beach with my girlfriend. He was relaxing me.”

The other people who testified in Goins’ defense Monday were former colleagues – the former principal at East Gaston High, a former student at the school who later became a teacher there, and her husband, who was one of Goins’ assistant coaches.

Eddie McGinnis, a principal for some of Goins’ tenure at East Gaston, said he’d never heard accusations of sexual misconduct but had received complaints from a parent who said Goins had struck a student with his ring. After an investigation, he told Goins “we don’t do that” and never received another complaint.

T.J. McNellie, Goins’ assistant from 2003 to 2008, said the wrestling team was successful because its practices were difficult and intense. He said some wrestlers bristled under the pressure.

“The word I would use is ‘soft,’ ” McNellie told the court. “It seemed like as the years went on, the boys softened up to where they couldn’t handle yelling at them. They would bristle easily. We would lose some of them. Even work ethic. We would have to find ways to pull that out of them.”

Still, McNellie contended he never saw Goins cross the line – in practices, in the classroom or during trips to out-of-town wrestling matches.

But during cross-examination, Belle tried to draw attention to what other teachers and administrators didn’t see.

“With 120 rooms in a school, it’s safe to say that a lot of things can go on in a school that just didn’t get seen?” Bell asked McGinnis, who was principal at East Gaston from 2001 to 2006 before retiring.

“It’s fair to say that you never had any expectation that you knew everything about what was going on in that school?”

“Yes,” McGinnis answered.

Testimony continues Wednesday. Goins’ attorney, Brent Ratchford, said he expects Goins’ defense to last all week.

Wootson: 704-358-5046; Twitter: @CleveWootson
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