Closing arguments given in sex crimes trial of ex-wrestling coach

08/11/2014 4:40 PM

08/12/2014 5:46 AM

Innocent coach or pedophile?

A Gaston County jury will begin deliberating the issue Tuesday in the lengthy trial of a former East Gaston High School wrestling coach charged with molesting team members.

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

During Monday’s closing arguments, the defense and prosecution offered contrasting views of Goins, who was a top wrestling coach with winning teams.

Defense attorney Brent Ratchford told the jury the state had failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Goins had committed any crimes.

“How do you prove something that did not happen?” he asked. “How do you prove something happened? You say it over and over. But just because you say it doesn’t mean it’s true. That’s what we have here.”

During the trial, which began July 17, prosecution witnesses described numerous alleged sexual advances by Goins, often under the guise of training. They testified the incidents occurred in hotel rooms on overnight trips and at their homes, the coach’s apartment and school.

The Observer’s policy is not to publish the names of sexual abuse victims.

During the prosecution’s closing argument, Gaston County Assistant District Attorney Stephanie Hamlin said that everything the defense put up was “a distraction from the actual evidence.” She called Goins’ wrestling program “extremely sexualized, degrading and demeaning.”

One witness 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 witness’ 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.

Ratchford reminded the jury they’d seen no photographs of Goins committing any sexual misconduct.

“There were no witnesses, and no one heard anything,” said Ratchford. “It didn’t happen no matter how much they said it did.”

He characterized some of the incidents, such as choking out and wrestlers made to wear makeup like prostitutes, as fraternity-type hazing – not sexual abuse.

On the witness stand during the trial, Ratchford said Goins admitted he’d made some bad decisions and had apologized. But Goins testified he never had any sexual contact with his athletes.

Ratchford said one of the accusers was angry with the coach because the accuser’s brother got kicked off the wrestling team. Another accuser lost his identity as a top wrestler after high school and turned to drugs, Ratchford said.

Ratchford said the man later worked as assistant coach for Goins, but couldn’t do the job, got fired and then tried to kill Goins.

During the trial, the accuser described the incident on a night in April 2013 as a suicide plan Goins allegedly brought to the accuser, saying that he wanted to die and needed the accuser to help kill him.

Goins testified that there was no such plan and he remembered little about the day, having been told by doctors that he had suffered a seizure or episode of amnesia.

Ratchford called graphic testimony from defense witnesses “unbelievable,” saying they made up details “that can’t be proven or disproven” and were only added for “shock value.”

At the time of the alleged crimes, prosecutor Hamlin said the accusers were ages 12, 13, 14 and 15 and found themselves in a wrestling environment that “basically desensitized them.”

Hamlin said Goins was “completely trusted by the community and parents.”

“Child molesters are notorious for getting people to trust them, and this is exactly what the defendant did,” she said.

Over the years, she said the three accusers kept their abuse “bottled up,” but in time came forward independently.

Hamlin said the defense “hasn’t offered one reason why these three men would come in here and make this up.”

Court will resume at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

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