A Sedgwick County jury is learning about the world of competitive cheerleading this week as they hear evidence in the case of a former cheer coach charged with sexually molesting four of his underage students.
Timothy Wells-Lee, 29, is charged with 11 felonies that accuse him of having illegal sexual relationships with girls ranging in age from 12 to 14, from 2006 through 2008. Three of the charges carry penalties of life imprisonment.
Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett and Deputy District Attorney Kim Parker are prosecuting the case. It is Bennett’s first jury trial since taking office in January.
During her opening statement, Parker asked the jury to focus on the illegal actions of the defendant, not on cheerleading.
“This case is not about cheerleading, and it’s not about competition,” she said. “This is a case about a cheer coach and four teenage girls.”
Wells-Lee was a coach at Cheer Fusion academy in Wichita when most of the illegal activities occurred, Parker said. He later coached at academies in Oklahoma and Virginia, she said.
Defense lawyer Roger Falk told the jury in his opening statement that his client admits having a sexual relationship with one of the girls — but not until after she had reached the legal age of 16. Falk suggested that the other girls made up stories about Wells-Lee because of outside pressure, much of it from detectives who investigated the case.
“It’s only after they are berated and yelled at that they eventually come around and say, ‘Well, yeah, this did happen,’ ” Falk said.
Among the first witnesses was a girl, now 19, who said she met Wells-Lee when she was 11. When she was 12, the girl said, Wells-Lee began sending her daily text messages, and that led to late-night telephone calls. She said her first sexual contact with Wells-Lee occurred in a field near her home.
“I made him stop for a second because it hurt,” she said.
“Did he stop?” Parker asked.
“Yes, but he kept telling me it would get better and stop hurting.”
“Did it stop hurting?”
“How old were you?”
Also testifying Wednesday was Tricia Hart, who runs the academy in Virginia where Wells-Lee worked briefly in 2010.
Hart said she allowed Wells-Lee to stay in a bedroom in her house until he saved enough money to get his own apartment. She said Wells-Lee claimed that he had a 22-year-old girlfriend back in Oklahoma who was a junior in college.
Hart said her feelings about Wells-Lee changed one night when she was picking up dirty dishes around the house and went into the room where Wells-Lee was staying. She said a black notebook with a pink ribbon was lying in the middle of the floor.
“When you opened it up, what was the first thing that you saw?” Bennett asked.
“A naked picture of a young girl,” Hart said.
She said the rest of book contained other pictures and suggestive comments from someone who was obviously an underage girl. Hart said Wells-Lee resigned as soon as he was confronted about the book.
“It was very, very, very shortly after that that he was on a plane — gone,” she said.
The girl later told the jury that she made the book for Wells-Lee as a going-away present before his move to Virginia.
The trial is being held in the courtroom of District Judge Ben Burgess.