BELLEFONTAINE – The final pretrial hearings for Patrick and Heather O’Donnell, who face charges involving allegations of rape, included an informal plea deal and establishing the ground rules for trial testimony during a hearing Tuesday. Their combined jury trial will go on as scheduled beginning Feb. 6 in Logan County Common Pleas Court.
Patrick O’Donnell, 52, former superintendent of Indian Lake Schools, has been indicted on 14 charges: four counts of rape, all first-degree felonies, four counts of sexual battery, all second-degree felonies, and six counts of gross sexual imposition, all third-degree felonies.
Heather O’Donnell, 46, faces two child endangering charges for not reporting the incident when the girl made the allegations. Mrs. O’Donnell is on leave as superintendent of the Midwest Regional Educational Service Center in Bellefontaine.
The case against Patrick O’Donnell was filed for his allegedly sexually assaulting a 10-year-old girl three years ago. The girl, who doesn’t attend Indian Lake Schools, is now 13. Heather O’Donnell faces charges relating to not informing authorities of the assaults.
During the hearing Tuesday, Judge William Goslee confirmed that an “informal” plea negotiation offer had been made to Mrs. O’Donnell. Logan County Prosecuting Attorney Eric Stewart told the court the state was willing to drop the second count if a guilty plea was secured on the first count.
Her attorney, Dennis Pelgram of Columbus, acknowledged the offer had been made and said he would confer with his client after the hearing.
Goslee explained to Mrs. O’Donnell that the maximum sentence on each count is three years in prison. Currently, she could be facing six years in prison, if convicted.
Regarding Patrick O’Donnell, Goslee spoke of a pre-indictment plea offer that was rejected, and that no offers are on the table. His attorney, Eric Semanski of Cleveland, confirmed the statement.
Goslee sternly reminded legal counsel that attempts to purposely use comments or innuendo during the trial that leaned to creating an image of “sexual activity” for a 13-year-old girl who may be present in the courtroom would not be well received.
He explained that any such necessary discussion would be held in the judge’s chambers.
Stewart filed a motion Tuesday morning regarding a rape shield law that protects any witnesses that may be verbally assailed with innuendo and inference to detailed sexual activity.
Goslee said he would not rule on the motion, noting all attorneys had been warned.
Mr. O’Donnell was originally arrested June 19, 2017, and charged with gross sexual imposition in Bellefontaine Municipal Court. That charge was dismissed when Logan County Prosecutor Eric Stewart decided to present the case to the grand jury.
Following his arrest on a grand jury indictment in July, he was released on a $150,000 bond. Soon after the Indian Lake Board of Education placed O’Donnell on unpaid leave because he was arrested and not able to report to work. Board members claim the district’s attendance rule gave them grounds to terminate his employment.
On Nov. 19, the board unanimously terminated O’Donnell’s contract, rejecting an Ohio State Education Department recommendation to wait until the legal process played itself out.
On Nov. 29, O’Donnell filed a lawsuit to reverse the board’s decision in Logan County Common Pleas. He is seeking reinstatement as superintendent, citing the board’s alleged wrongful action of terminating him. He is also seeking payment of back pay since the time of his arrest.
Patrick O’Donnell has been with the Indian Lake School District since 2010. Sidney City Schools had employed him for 20 years. In Sidney he was superintendent, principal at Northwood Elementary School and a teacher.
The writer is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.