NEW ALBANY — The Georgetown man accused of molesting two 11-year-old girls was found guilty Thursday.
Family of the victims hugged each other and cried as Floyd County Superior Court No. 1. Judge Susan Orth read the verdict. The decision came after more than two days of testimonies and roughly four hours of deliberation.
"We're extremely happy and I thank all the jurors for what they've done," the stepmother of one of the victims said following the verdict.
Jerry Coop, 43, was originally charged with five felony counts of child molesting following an investigation that began in 2015. The charges involve two victims and span 2014 and early 2015. One charge was dismissed Thursday morning per the request of Deputy Prosecutor Steve Owen. Owen said he felt obligated to dismiss the charge after the victim testified that she had lied about that particular instance.
Coop was found guilty of the two level 1 felony charges where he was accused of having sex with that same victim in 2015. He was also convicted on two counts of child molesting for inappropriately touching a second girl the year before. Those charges were originally enhanced based on accusations that Coop drugged the victim with Benadryl, but the jury found Coop guilty on the lesser version of those charges. Owen said that's probably because the statute pertaining to the enhancement is intended more for date rape drugs where the victim unknowingly ingests the drug.
According to multiple testimonies, the girls — who were good friends with Coop's daughter — would frequently stay overnight at Coop's Georgetown home on Kepley Road. Coop previously admitted to investigators that he would give the children Benadryl or melatonin-based medication before bedtime. He also admitted to sometimes sharing a mattress with the two victims.
During closing arguments, Owen characterized Coop's admitted behavior as "creepy" and said Coop took advantage of "two poor girls."
"He could've been so positive [for them], but instead he preyed upon them," Owen said.
Coop did not testify during the trial, but has denied claims that he inappropriately touched the girls. Coop's attorney, Brian Chastain, said during closing arguments that Coop saw the girls as his own children and that there are "innocent explanations" for his client's admitted behavior.
Chastain also questioned the victim and witness testimonies. He stopped short of saying anyone lied, but said they could have mistaken what did or didn't happen. He pointed to inconsistencies between what the victims said in deposition and what they said during the trial. One victim said during deposition that Coop did not have sex with her, but testified that he did. She also alleged that the molesting occurred two to three times a week, something she hadn't disclosed before.
"The truth is not what you want it to be whenever you want it to be," Chastain said in court.
A forensic interviewer who specializes in talking to children about sexual abuse allegations testified that it's common for children to release information in batches. That same woman interviewed the two victims in the Coop case and said she wasn't surprised that the victims would disclose more information during the trial. Owen said he was "really proud" of how the victims testified.
While the verdict was read, Coop sat quietly next to Chastain. The sentencing range for all four charges combined is between 44 and 100 years in the Indiana Department of Correction. Owen said he'll be asking for "substantial jail time" at a sentencing hearing scheduled for September 19.
The victim's stepmother said her stepdaughter will be relieved by the verdict. The News and Tribune is not publishing her name in order to protect the victim's identity.
"It's going to be like a huge weight off her shoulders," the stepmother said. "She'll feel safe and she won't have to feel like she has to watch over her shoulder all the time."
The stepmother added that the day she watched the now 14-year-old girl testify in court was one of the hardest days of her life.
"She didn't even want to go in there, we had to kind of talk her into going in," she said. "But she did it because she's brave and she wanted to see a guilty verdict."
The second victim also testified and the two girls remain good friends.
"To me, it means everything that they've been through the same thing and they can be there for each other," the stepmother said.
Coop is being held in the Floyd County jail. His attorney was unavailable for comment following the verdict.