LEBANON, Ohio - An ex-Springboro gym teacher was sentenced Wednesday to eight years in prison for sex crimes against more than two dozen first-grade girls, the Journal-News reported.
Judge Robert Peeler also designated John Austin Hopkins, 26, of Springboro, as a Tier II sex offender, concluding a three-hour sentencing hearing in Warren County Common Pleas Court.
“People are punishing themselves for what you have done to these children,” Peeler said, while reading excerpts from gripping, tearful statements of nine of 27 victims.
Before levying the sentence, Peeler said the seven members of Hopkins’ family begging for leniency were “in denial.”
While noting no rape was alleged, Peeler said the surveillance videos from the classroom, played repeatedly during the March trial, were unusually graphic in depicting his sexual arousal from touching the little girls.
“We saw it,” Peeler said. “I saw your erection numerous times.”
After almost 11 hours of deliberation on March 13, Hopkins was found guilty on 34 of 36 counts of gross sexual imposition involving 27 of the 28 alleged victims and taken into custody.
But parents, including one in a T-shirt Wednesday, called for “Justice for the 88,” the number of victims in cases presented to a grand jury after a lengthy investigation.
“My family stands with all 88,” a father concluded his statement.
The investigation began after his daughter came home in March 2019 and told her parents how happy she was to have finally gotten to sit on Hopkins’ lap.
After months of investigation, including review of hours of school surveillance video, Hopkins was accused of sexually touching 28 girls during his first-grade gym class at Clearcreek Elementary School from December 2018 to March 2019.
Still pending is a federal lawsuit on behalf of some of the parents brought against the district, administrators and Hopkins.
While targeting Hopkins, the victim statements Wednesday also criticized the Springboro school district and officials.
Several parents said families left the school district to get a fresh start due to a lack of confidence in their children’s safety as the case developed.
“The more we advocated for our daughter, the worse things got. We knew we had to get out,” a mother said during a tearful statement.
“The sight of a school bus made me sick,” another mother said.
Parents also described the catastrophic effects on them and their families and the possibility they would be forced to deal with the after-effects for the rest of their lives.
Children and parents in therapy and counseling, nightmares and other behavioral changes were described during statement stretching over 90 minutes.
“Today I hope justice is served on the monster who created havoc for so many Springboro families,” a mother said.
Another mother: “The betrayal is very hard to grasp and the horrible memories never go away.”
Several mothers emphasized their child’s lost innocence and their feelings of guilt.
“I couldn’t protect my own daughter,” one said.
Prosecutors urged Peeler to sentence Hopkins to a minimum of 27 years.
“We’re very disappointed with an eight-year sentence, given the scope of devastation that Mr. Hopkins inflicted on all of these families and the entire community of Springboro,” Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell said in a email afterward.
Hopkins’ lawyers said 27 years in prison was a sentence more in line with a murder case and suggested in-patient treatment.
The judge ordered consecutive and concurrent terms totaling eight years.
Hopkins, a well-known former swimmer and coach in the area, apologized to the community, parents, victims and his family.
“Clearly I have things to work on,” Hopkins said. “I will make the best out of any situation.”
After prison, Hopkins will be required to report as a sex offender for 25 years.
Hopkins’ mother, Lisa Hopkins, a veteran Springboro teacher, indicated there would be an appeal, but none was stated by his lawyers after the sentencing.
“I feel bad for everyone,” she said.
The Journal-News is a news partner of WCPO 9.