The victim of Eddie Mabry’s years of sexual abuse greeted his longtime dance teacher in court Wednesday with a two-word question.
“I don’t understand,” the 22-year-old said, staring at Mabry who sat a few feet away, their eyes never meeting. “I don’t know why you picked me. How do you guys do that?”
Mabry, 52, will serve at least six years in a North Carolina prison. He pleaded guilty Wednesday to molesting his accuser over several years, starting when the boy was a 14-year-old student. The assaults occurred at Mabry’s now-shuttered studio in Fort Mill, S.C., and at his Huntersville home. Prosecutor Kelly Stetzer said Mabry often plied the boy with drugs and alcohol. The accuser’s father says the abuse went on for about five years.
The episode set off a cycle of increasing drug and alcohol problems for the boy that left his family baffled, his father said at the hearing. Drug arrests to detox centers and back again, the father said. The boy became addicted to heroin and almost died of an overdose in the family’s front yard.
Last March, the son shared a crippling secret.
“He told me, ‘I’m going to tell you something, but you have to promise me that you are not going to hurt anybody after you hear it. I need my dad for my whole life,’ ” the father said from his home, fighting back tears.
The family went to police. Later that same month, the victim made one last visit to Mabry’s home. This time he wore a hidden camera and microphone. The resulting video played a major role in Mabry’s plea, defense attorney George Laughrun said after the hearing. “The video was damning. Without it, we would not be where we ended up.”
In it, Stetzer says, Mabry apologized to his victim, adding that he wasn’t thinking about the consequences of his actions and blamed alcohol for his bad judgment.
During his time in court, Mabry, who taught children in York County, S.C., for 20 years, did not speak. But years of silence led to 15 minutes of raw courtroom emotion from the victim and his father.
If not for the promise he made to his son, “I would have hunted you down and killed you,” the father told Mabry. “You broke our trust. My son looked up to you.”
Now things have changed, the father said. “You don’t have power over my son. You don’t have power over my family. And you’re going to a place where you’ll be the prey.”
The son followed. He started dancing for Mabry when he was 7. Now, looking older than his years, he said he wished his attacker’s father had lived long enough to be in the courtroom now, a comment that brought a gasp from Mabry’s family. The victim pressed on. “I bet you haven’t told your mom that you really did it...,” he said.
Mabry taught York County children at his studio for two decades and held instructor posts at Winthrop University in Rock Hill and the Northwest School of the Arts in Charlotte. On Monday, he pleaded guilty in York County to the assaults that occurred in Fort Mill. In return for his plea to one charge of second-degree sexual offense on Wednesday, Mecklenburg prosecutors dropped 19 other counts of first-degree sexual offense.
In York County, Mabry was allowed to accept the punishment without admitting guilt. He did not have that option on Wednesday.
“Are you indeed guilty?” Superior Court Judge Bob Bell asked.
Mabry paused briefly before answering. “Yes,” he said.
Laughrun said his client agreed to the deal to spare both families more suffering.
Several hours after Mabry had been led away in handcuffs, the father of his victim remained unmoved by the gesture.
“He was a teacher, a leader in the community, a friend of my family,” he said. “He needed to know how many sleepless nights we’ve had, how much money we’ve spent trying to help our son.”
He said some neighbors in Fort Mill have asked him to pray for Mabry.
“That’s not my business. That’s God’s,” the father said. “Maybe that’s not what people want to hear but that’s where I’m at.
“I’m still working on forgiveness.”