Teacher sentenced to 20 years in sex case
By Dwayne Bremer
Jun 17, 2014, 20:25
Former Hancock High School teacher and drama instructor Hiram "Jay" Coker pled guilty Monday to two counts of sexual battery of a former student in 2012.
Circuit Court Judge John Gargiulo accepted Coker's guilty plea and sentenced him to 20 years in prison.
Coker entered an open plea, commonly referred to as a "North Carolina" plea, in which there is no recommendation from the state on sentencing.
"This is a reprehensible act," Gargiulo told Coker Monday. "I don't think it can ever be understood. You were in a position of trust and you obliterated that trust."
Coker, 43, was arrested in 2012 after allegations surfaced that he had been having a sexual relationship with one of his students, a female 15-year-old HHS sophomore.
Assistant District Attorney Chris Daniel said Monday that Coker had sex with the girl on several occasions between March and May of 2012.
The sexual battery incidents took place at the high school and at a hotel in Harrison County, Daniel said.
"He was a teacher and the victim was a student, that is how he had met her and built up trust," Daniel said.
Daniel said the incident was reported to then HHS principal Rhett Ladner, who reported it to authorities.
The victim's mother was allowed to testify during the hearing.
She said that Coker's actions 'disgusted her.'
"This man used his position to take advantage of my daughter," the woman said. "He caused her to be the center of ridicule by classmates and took her innocence. My daughter will never be the same."
Three people spoke on Coker's behalf including his father, a jail chaplain, and a social worker.s
Hiram "Jack" Coker said his son's actions were "inexcusable," but he pleaded with the judge for mercy.
"I would like, if possible, for him to have some place in society in the future," he said.
The chaplain said Coker has participated in several jail programs and has been helping other inmates with literacy programs.
Later in the hearing, Coker offered a tearful apology.
"I am so terribly sorry to the family and everyone involved," Coker said. "I betrayed everyone. I knew it was wrong and it is all my fault. I was supposed to be a teacher and mentor and I was not."
Gargiulo said he took all of the testimony into consideration and sentenced Coker to 20 years, which must be served day-for-day without the possibility of early release.
"I do not judge you, but I judge the act," Gargiulo said.
In addition to serving 20 years, Coker will be mandated to register as a sex offender when he is released.