BELLEFONTAINE – Former Sidney City Schools Superintendent Patrick O’Donnell was found guilty of one count of gross sexual imposition, a third-degree felony, after he entered a specified guilty plea in Logan County Common Pleas Court. The move erased charges pending against his wife, Heather O’Donnell.
The plea agreement was reached with a sequestered 12-member jury panel waiting for a trial to begin late Wednesday morning. Patrick O’Donnell was taken into custody following the hearing until a presentence investigation is completed.
Patrick O’Donnell, 52, former superintendent of Indian Lake Schools, pleaded guilty through an Alford Plea, a move that allows the defendant to maintain his claim of innocence even though he is pleading guilty.
According to USLegal.com, the Alford stipulation states, in part, that a criminal defendant “does not admit the act but admits that the prosecution could likely prove the charge,” and that making such a plea may be to “avoid being convicted on a more serious charge.”
Charged with multiple felonies, Patrick O’Donnell was facing possible consecutive life sentences in prison. Even though Patrick O’Donnell made use of the Alford Plea, Judge William Goslee said that will not affect his sentencing.
The Lewistown resident now faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. He would also be facing a five-year parole period following his prison term, Goslee said.
State mandates will result in Patrick O’Donnell’s being listed a Tier II sex offender for 25 years, requiring that he report to authorities every 18 months. He will also lose his eligibility to become a government employee, including the loss of his education certifications indefinitely.
Also, he will not be able to live within 1,000 feet of a school, be permitted to vote, hold any elected office, serve on a jury or own firearms. Goslee also noted the charge is not expungeable and will remain on his record forever.
He will be sentenced on March 19 at 9 a.m. in Logan County Common Pleas Court.
Life sentences hung in the balance
Patrick O’Donnell had 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, faced two child endangering charges for not reporting the incident when the girl made the allegations. She is on leave as superintendent of the Midwest Regional Educational Service Center in Bellefontaine.
Heather O’Donnell was facing a maximum 3-year sentence on each count, if convicted.
During the review of the plea agreement, Patrick O’Donnell told Goslee he wanted to make the deal to spare the victim the ordeal of going through the trial process, and he wanted his wife cleared of all charges.
Statement of facts
According to the prosecutor’s statement of facts, Patrick O’Donnell made sexual contact with a juvenile female between Jan. 1, 2013, and Oct. 6, 2016, at his condominium in Russell’s Point. It was noted that the incident “began as physical play” that soon led to a sexual assault.
On June 12, 2017, the victim and her father reported to Logan County Children’s Services, telling of the abuse by Patrick O’Donnell. The victim is now 14 years of age, according to authorities.
Following the trial, Logan County Prosecutor Eric Stewart said it was two polygraph test results that took the case to the next level. On June 13, the victim passed the test with “flying colors,” with no deception detected.
On June 19, the Bureau of Criminal Investigation tested Patrick O’Donnell. Stewart reported he showed deception when asked if he had ever had sexual contact with the victim. He was arrested on the spot and charged with gross sexual imposition in Bellefontaine Municipal Court. That charge was dismissed when Stewart decided to present the case to the grand jury.
Following his arrest on a grand jury indictment in July, Patrick O’Donnell was released on a $150,000 bond. Soon after the Indian Lake Board of Education placed Patrick O’Donnell on unpaid leave because he was arrested and not able to report to work. On Nov. 19, the board unanimously terminated Patrick O’Donnell’s contract.
Stewart commended the victim for her willingness to testify about what had happened to her. He said she “has a tremendous heart based on what has occurred.” He noted her story was always consistent throughout the investigation, while Patrick O’Donnell’s was not, indicating her honesty.
The prosecutor explained the last-minute plea agreement discussion was initiated by the defense team a few days before the trial began. He said the move was made because of the high stakes Patrick O’Donnell was facing.
Patrick’s attorney, Samuel Shamansky of Columbus, said after the trial that the plea agreement was motivated by the possibility of his client’s being sentenced to consecutive life sentences. He claimed Patrick O’Donnell wanted to save the ordeal the trial might have on the victim.
In all, Shamansky said the result was a “fair and equitable solution” to what his client was facing.
On Wednesday, Goslee said once the presentence investigation is complete, he would consider bond for Patrick O’Donnell’s release until the sentencing.
Patrick O’Donnell had been with the Indian Lake School District since 2010. Sidney City Schools had employed him for 20 years as the district’s superintendent, principal of Northwood Elementary School and a teacher.
The writer is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.