Former track coach Ato Stephens told a court Monday he was embarrassed and very sorry for “inappropriate” WhatsApp messages between him and a girl on the track team he had coached.
He was reminded of allegations that he had indecently touched the girl and asked her to touch him. “Did that happen?” defense counsel Paul Keleher asked.
“No, sir,” Stephens replied.
The girl, who was 14 at the time of the alleged incidents, told the court last week that two indecent assaults and an episode of gross indecency occurred in Stephens’s vehicle after he had dropped off other athletes after practice.
Mr. Keleher asked Stephens if there was ever a time when he dropped off all the other athletes, leaving just the girl in the car with him. “No, sir. No time at all,” the defendant said.
The attorney asked why he had begun sending inappropriate messages to the girl.
Stephens, now 38, said it started after a meet in which the girl had a bad performance. “She was moping and upset.” He said he did not recall the context of how it happened. He said he consoled her the same as he would have consoled any of the other athletes.
He said the girl began behaving very flirtatiously with him and he thought she had a crush on him.
Later, Director of Public Prosecutions Cheryll Richards wondered what led him to start asking the girl to send him pictures of herself, he replied, “I don’t recall.”
He agreed he thought the girl was attractive and had a sexy body.
Asked if the fact that the girl had a crush on him would make her more willing to comply with his request, he replied, “I don’t know.”
Ms. Richards asked who introduced the sending of pictures into the relationship, he answered, “I don’t remember.”
She asked how he got the girl to do what he wanted. “I don’t remember,” he said.
Ms. Richards asked if he knew it was wrong to ask her for photos of herself without clothes. He said yes, and he was sorry.
Justice Michael Wood, who is hearing the matter without a jury, asked Stephens, “Why didn’t you stop?” Stephens replied, “I don’t know.”
He agreed that the girl was reluctant to send him nude photos, so they came to an agreement that she could send photos of her in her underwear.
He was still being cross-examined by Ms. Richards by press time.