MOUNT VERNON – A former Mount Vernon Middle School gym teacher pleaded guilty March 25 to engaging in sexual activity with a student in 2018.
Andrew A. Walsh, 36, pleaded guilty to one count of sexual battery, a third-degree felony, in Knox County Common Pleas Court. According to Knox County Prosecutor Chip McConville, evidence showed Walsh engaged in sexual conduct with a student, who was 15 years old at the time, multiple times in the fall of 2018.
“There were multiple instances, one of which occurred at the middle school," said McConville, who worked alongside Assistant County Prosecutor Christine Williams in this case.
The victim and her mother spoke in court Thursday, McConville said, "describing Walsh’s grooming of the victim and his public reputation as a religious person." Following the guilty plea, Judge Richard Wetzel chose to revoke Walsh's bond. He will remain in the Knox County Jail until he receives his sentence April 29.
Walsh is facing one to five years in prison on the sexual battery charge, McConville said, and will receive five years of parole supervision following his release. He will be required to register as a Tier 3 sex offender for the rest of his life.
“Obviously, this guy’s got no business being in the teaching profession," McConville said. "I envision this is going to result in the mandatory forfeiture of his teacher’s license. He’ll have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life, and he’s probably gonna spend close to five years in prison for this, plus five years of patrol supervision afterwards.
"Based upon what we could prove in this case, that’s a pretty good outcome.”
Walsh's legal counsel, Dublin-based Luftman, Heck & Associates, did not respond to Knox Pages request for comment following Thursday's guilty plea.
Walsh taught physical education at Mount Vernon Middle School for nine years before his arrest on July 15, 2020. The Mount Vernon Board of Education voted six days later to suspend Walsh without pay, and his profile was removed from the school district's website.
"We are extremely disturbed to hear of the recent allegations against Mr. Andrew Walsh," Superintendent Bill Seder said in a statement at the time.
He said the district was unaware of the allegations against Walsh until that week, when the victim came forward to the Knox County Sheriff's Office.
Walsh was released from the Knox County Jail on July 17, after his $100,000 bond was paid. Mount Vernon Municipal Court Judge John Thatcher allowed the release on the condition that Walsh would have no contact with Mount Vernon City Schools, no contact with the alleged victim or her family, and no contact with children under the age of 18.
Walsh's position with the school district remained vacant throughout the school year. His attorney notified the school district in late February that he intended to resign, Seder said, and the school board voted to accept Walsh's resignation at its March 15 meeting.
"Situations like these hurt so many people," Seder said in an email Saturday. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to all involved."
Walsh was initially charged with two counts of rape (a first-degree felony) and one count of gross sexual imposition (a fourth-degree felony) last summer.
The victim told detectives he had sexually assaulted her multiple times between Sept. 1 and Oct. 31, 2018. One incident occurred in his office, she said, and the other occurred while she was babysitting at his Morgan Township home. Walsh was married with three children at the time of his arrest, according to the school district's website.
During a recorded interview with law enforcement officials, Walsh's victim provided text messages between the two that showed Walsh apologized for his actions.
In order to convict Walsh of rape, McConville said, the state would have needed to prove "force" was used (other possible scenarios, such as the victim being less than 13 years old, being substantially impaired either physically or mentally by the defendant, or being substantially impaired due to advanced age, did not apply in this case).
After months of investigation and reviewing all available evidence, McConville said his office determined "force" would be too high of a bar to clear. It could, however, prove Walsh committed sexual battery, McConville said.
Sexual battery requires proof the defendant engaged in sexual conduct while operating from a position of power. This includes teacher-student, parent-child, doctor-patient, pastor-parishioner and officer-detainee relationships, among others.
"Once you get into children who are 13, 14 or 15, if there’s not force, you’re either dealing with unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, which is a less serious charge, or if there’s some kind of special relationship involved, it’s sexual battery," McConville said. "The battery statute is about punishing someone who is in a position of power based on the relationship."
McConville said his office chose to pursue the sexual battery charge due its seriousness.
Unlawful sexual contact with a minor is a fourth-degree felony, carrying a sentence of six to 18 months in prison upon conviction. Sexual battery, however, merits a one-to-five year prison sentence, five years of parole supervision, and lifetime Tier 3 sex offender registration (just like the rape charge).
McConville classified sexual battery as a "high-tier" third-degree felony.
"We preferred that charge because it was more serious than the unlawful sexual conduct with a minor charge ..." McConville said. "We believed that we were not going to be able to prove force, that changed the strategy a little bit."
After months of evidence collection and attorney negotiations, McConville's office presented Walsh with a plea deal: plead guilty to one count of sexual battery (amended from rape), and the state would dismiss the remaining charges of rape and gross sexual imposition. This sexual battery charge would encompass the entirety of Walsh's actions.
McConville said the victim's family was involved in the negotiation process, and the deal presented to Walsh was "based on the facts of the case." Walsh took the deal in late January.
“We try to make the pleas go along with the facts as well as we can," he said. "In this case, the facts lined up with sexual battery.”
Walsh is still facing a civil suit in Knox County Common Pleas Court, according to the court records. The docket lists two plaintiffs, "Jane Doe 1" and "Jane Doe 2," and is scheduled for a jury trial in September.
While McConville said his office looked into the possibility of multiple victims in the criminal case, nothing materialized.
“We did investigate whether there were other victims, but none came forward," McConville said.
Seder said Mount Vernon City Schools will "carefully evaluate" whether or not it wants to hire a replacement for Walsh. He seemed open to the idea of considering systemic changes to prevent similar situations from occurring in the future, but did not list any specific measures currently being discussed.
"All staff are required to complete training on a yearly basis," Seder said. "We are open to evaluating and providing additional training."