BELLEFONTAINE – Former Sidney City Schools superintendent Patrick O’Donnell was sentenced Monday to 54 months in prison for his involvement regarding sexual misconduct with a minor female. The victim publicly urged anyone in an abusive situation to speak out until someone listens.
Logan County Common Pleas Court Judge William Goslee sentenced O’Donnell to six months less than the five-year maximum allowable term on one count of gross sexual imposition, a third-degree felony. O’Donnell will be required to register as a Tier II sex offender for 25 years after his penitentiary release. He was not fined but was assessed the court costs.
Prior to the sentencing, Goslee strongly noted his interpretation of the pre-sentence investigation in stating O’Donnell didn’t appear to be remorseful for what had happened.
“I’m mystified that Mr. O’Donnell doesn’t understand the severity of the allegations. It says here (in the report) that he was ‘flabbergasted’ by the allegations,” Goslee said.
He said O’Donnell was in “a position of trust and authority” and that his actions were “more sinister and involved” than he was willing to admit to.
“You used that position of trust to overpower a child,” Goslee said. “This is a very difficult case and you continue to deny her (the victim) version of what happened.”
O’Donnell and his attorney, Samuel Shamansky of Columbus, stood to reply to Goslee. O’Donnell said he has apologized to the victim and was ready to move on. Goslee pressed O’Donnell for an answer on whether he agreed with the victim’s version of the facts. O’Donnell said he did.
Goslee said that admission, which was lacking before, provides the victim a better understanding in her emotional healing process.
It began as ‘play fighting’
The victim, now 14, said O’Donnell began touching her inappropriately when she was 9 years old and continued until she was 13. She claimed it began as “play fighting” and led to a sexual assault.
She stated she would become “frozen” when he would touch her, not knowing what to do. She would become frightened and attempt to avoid him if he drew near. At age 12, she gathered enough courage to tell her mother.
The victim claimed her mother said the behavior was normal, but she would “talk with Pat” about the problem. The abuse continued until she was 13 when she told her mother a second time. Her mother allegedly said, “Other kids have dealt with worse things.”
After confiding in her brother, she was encouraged to tell her father. They quickly got law enforcement involved and the case developed.
The victim said she could not forgive O’Donnell, didn’t want to see him ever again, and wanted him in prison.
Logan County Prosecutor Eric Stewart recommended prison for O’Donnell due to the age of the victim and the physical and psychological harm he had inflicted upon her. He said the fact that O’Donnell took an Alford Plea at the trial indicates his lack of remorse or responsibility.
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.”
One week shy of his birthday, the 52-year-old O’Donnell was taken into custody. He will spend the next month at the Correctional Reception Center in Orient before being assigned to a prison facility, according to Stewart.
He will be eligible to file for a judicial release after serving six months, the prosecutor said.
Plea deal lessened prison sentence options
On Feb. 7, O’Donnell was found guilty of one count of gross sexual imposition, a third-degree felony, after he entered a specified guilty plea following a last-minute plea agreement reached just before the trial was to begin. The move also erased charges pending against his wife, and co-defendant, Heather O’Donnell, that day.
Patrick O’Donnell was originally 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.
With multiple felony charges, Patrick O’Donnell was facing possible consecutive life sentences if convicted on the original allegations. Through the plea agreement, he was looking at a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine Monday.
Heather O’Donnell, 46, had faced two child endangering charges for not reporting the incident when the girl made the allegations. She was facing a maximum 3-year sentence on each count, if convicted.
Heather O’Donnell is the former superintendent of the Midwest Regional Educational Service Center, which has offices in Bellefontaine and Sidney.
In February, 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, plus he wanted his wife cleared of all charges.
Goslee explained that state mandates the sex offender registration for 25 years every 18 months; the loss of his eligibility to become a government employee, including the forfeiture of his education certifications indefinitely.
Also, he will not be able to live within 1,000 feet of a school, permitted to vote, hold any elected office, serve on a jury, or own firearms. Goslee also noted the charge is not expungable and will remain on his record forever.
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 Russells 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 O’Donnell.
Following the February trial, 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 O’Donnell. Stewart reported he showed deception when asked if he had ever had sexual contact with the victim.
Following his arrest on a grand jury indictment in July, O’Donnell 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. On Nov. 19, the board unanimously terminated O’Donnell’s contract.
That move is key to a pending civil suit filed by O’Donnell against the school board alleging wrongful action to terminate him. He claims the board failed to follow guidelines set by officials with the Ohio State Education Department to not act until the legal process had concluded.
O’Donnell is seeking back pay since the time of his arrest.
On Feb. 21, Rob Underwood, named interim superintendent when O’Donnell was first placed on leave, was given a five-year contract as superintendent.
Patrick O’Donnell had been with the Indian Lake School District since 2010. Sidney City Schools had employed him for 20 years and at that district he had been superintendent, principal at Northwood Elementary School and a teacher.
The writer is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News - a sister publication to the Urbana Daily Citizen and its associated weeklies.