Former coach convicted

Special
Melissa Lee Chase, former teacher and coach at Harlem High School, was convicted of a sexual assault on a student.

A former Harlem High School girls softball coach was convicted Thursday of the sexual assault of a student.

 

Judge Carl C. Brown Jr. issued the verdict in Richmond County Superior Court after presiding over Melissa Chase's bench trial.

Ms. Chase, 29, stood accused of sexual assault against a person in school for having a single sexual encounter with a 16-year-old girl in November.

Ms. Chase had been the teenager's gym teacher the previous year, the girl testified Thursday. By the time they became sexually intimate Nov. 3, Ms. Chase was no longer her teacher and the teenager was not a member of the girls' softball team at Harlem.

But, as Assistant District Attorney Adam King stressed in questioning witnesses, Ms. Chase was in a position of authority over all students at lunchtimes and in the school's common areas.

Alvin Griffin, Harlem principal, testified Ms. Chase had been a good teacher without any record of disciplinary action. She resigned when authorities learned of her relationship with the student, he testified.

Although 16 is the age of consent in Georgia, under the law those in a position of authority over others - such as teachers, psychiatrists or jailers - are prohibited from having sexual relations with anyone subject to their authority. Consent is not a defense.

Judge Brown ordered Ms. Chase to be jailed after her conviction. A sentencing date has not been set. She faces a mandatory minimum 10-year prison sentence.

The only way Ms. Chase might avoid that sentence is if the judge is convinced she meets six special conditions, her attorney, Greg Leopard, said.

To qualify for a possible sentence below the 10 years in prison, the judge must find that Ms. Chase has no prior sex crime conviction, she did not use a weapon, there is no evidence of similar criminal conduct, the victim didn't suffer any physical harm, she did not transport the victim, and she did not physically restrain the victim.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or sandy.hodson@augustachronicle.com.