In an emotional trial that took up much of the day Thursday, a Highland County jury found Hillsboro City Schools shop teacher Steven Holland not guilty of felony sexual battery and guilty of two counts of sexual imposition, a misdemeanor offense.
Nearly 30 people attended the trial, family and friends of Holland on the defense side, and his victims and their supporters on the prosecution side.
So emotional was the testimony and looming verdict that Judge Rocky Coss ordered extra law enforcement be on hand before the jury cast its ballot, and issued a stern warning to spectators that outbursts would be punished by jail time.
The verdict came a few hours after jurors heard from Holland’s two female victims, family friends who testified that Holland groped them on a number of occasions while they stayed at his home. Both were juveniles at the time, and one of the victims is not yet 18.
The Times-Gazette typically does not identify victims of sex crimes.
In opening statements, Highland County Prosecuting Attorney Anneka Collins described Holland as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” who preyed on his victims’ trust as a close family friend.
Attorney J.D. Wagoner, who defended Holland, said his client was innocent until proven guilty and urged the jury to put emotion aside when deciding the verdict.
The victims testified that Holland groped them at separate times when each was alone with him at his home, and that the incidents spanned over years. The sexual battery charge was filed in regard to a more inappropriate form of touching that the elder victim said took place in Holland’s garage in 2010.
The younger victim’s father, who was close friends with Holland, testified that after his daughter told him about the incidents last year, he called Holland, and Holland said he had nothing to say about the allegations.
Detective Vincent Antinore of the Highland County Sheriff’s Office was a key witness for the state, and in testimony he walked the jury through a secret recording of his first interview with Holland.
In the recording, Holland is heard saying that one victim “didn’t have a problem with any of it,” and that the elder victim was “mad at me because I touched” the other younger victim.
The recording was the only tangible piece of evidence in the trial and may have been a key factor in the jury’s decision, since during deliberation, the jury asked to listen to it again after hearing it during initial proceedings.
But it was the definition of a legal term that swung the jury toward a not-guilty verdict on the sexual battery charge, Coss said after the trial.
Later in deliberation, the jury asked for the definition of “in loco parentis,” a legal term referring to someone acting as another’s parent in certain situations, and Coss gave the legal answer.
To win a conviction on the sexual battery charge, the state had to prove that Holland was acting as a parental figure to his victims when the incidents occurred, and it was this idea on which Wagoner built much of his defense. The attorney argued that Holland was not acting as a parent, and that his victims were only guests in his house.
Collins argued that the victims relied on Holland for shelter, food and transportation, and had to abide by the family’s rules while they were visiting.
Coss said after the trial he had “no doubt” that Holland committed the acts, but he believed it was the parentis technicality that swayed the jury on the first count.
The judge ordered Holland to have no contact with female juveniles, with the exception of Holland’s 1-year-old daughter, until his sentencing hearing.
Coss said that in similar cases, there are often “numerous victims.”
Holland, 36, lives in the Sinking Spring area.
Hillsboro City Schools Superintendent Tim Davis said via text message on Thursday that Holland is on paid administrative leave until court proceedings are final.
The judge ordered a presentence investigation in the case and set Holland’s sentencing hearing for March 20 at 10:30 a.m.
Holland faces up to 120 days in county jail on each count.
He remains under supervision by the Highland County Probation Department and will be electronically monitored until his sentencing hearing.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570.