By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
A trial date was set Friday after a Mercer County judge rejected a plea agreement for a former PikeView High School teacher charged with multiple sexual-abuse related charges involving students.
Circuit Court Judge William Sadler rejected the proposed plea deal for Jonathan Kirk, 35, a former physical education teacher and coach at the school. Sadler then set a trial date for April 15.
Sadler said the plea agreement didn’t take into account Kirk’s position as a teacher, and how that position allowed him to pressure the victims to do what he wanted them to do.
“The court cannot find the plea agreement in the interest of justice,” Sadler said.
The judge also had reservations about the results of sexual offender evaluation and presentencing reports that were filed before Friday’s hearing.
“I think Judge Sadler’s greatest reservation had to do Mr. Kirk’s minimization of his acts in the presentence psychological evaluation,” said Chief Assistant Prosecuting Attorney George Sitler.
Under the proposed plea agreement, Kirk would have faced 20 years in prison with the possibility of being released within 10 years, Sitler said. Kirk now faces 19 charges, and when asked how many years Kirk could face now if convicted at trial, Sitler replied, “around a century.”
Kirk admitted to sharing sexually explicit imagery with seven victims and touching one victim intimately, but more sexual contact was alleged in the indictment. Two victims alleged actual sexual conduct, Sitler said.
The fact the plea agreement was rejected by the court sent the case to trial.
“It means we’re going to have to try the case,” Sitler said of the court’s decision. “It means these girls will have to come before the jury and tell an awkward, uncomfortable story. I feel confident the evidence will sustain a conviction for more time than Mr. Kirk pleaded to ultimately, but that will have to be seen on April 15.”
One victim’s mother, who declined to give her name, said after the hearing that she’s glad the case is now going to trial.
“I think the judge not accepting the plea was a really big relief,” she stated. “I think that the plea did not address all the victims. I wasn’t expecting it, but it was really a relief.”
Now Kirk will be held accountable for violating the trust granted to a teacher, she added.
Sadler scheduled a status hearing for Feb. 24 to address any possible issues before the trial. Kirk was remanded back to the Southern Regional Jail in Beaver.
Kirk was arrested in March 2013 and charged with 19 felony charges including multiple counts of use of obscene matter with intent to seduce a minor; use of minors in filming sexually explicit conduct; distribution and display to minors of obscene matter; sexual abuse by a parent or custodian; and soliciting a minor via computer.
Kirk pleaded guilty Nov. 12, 2013, to six counts of distribution of obscene matter to a minor and one count of first-degree sexual abuse. The charges carry a maximum of five years in prison on each count.
In a previous report, Sgt. M.D. Clemons, with the Crimes Against Children Unit of the West Virginia State Police, said the majority of the charges stemmed from events that occurred on the school grounds and the alleged victims were female students between the ages of 16 and 18 years old.
Clemons said after the hearing that the investigation began in December 2012 when the administrators at PikeView High School received a complaint. The principal then contacted the Mercer County Board of Education, which contacted the state police. The alleged activities, which had been happening on Internet social media, had been going on since 2010.
Kirk was under suspension from the school until the investigation was completed, Clemons said. He resigned before the board of education could hold a hearing to see if the suspension would be upheld.
At the time of his arrest, Kirk was residing in Walton, a community in Roane County.