MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

February 23, 2013

Coach acquitted of molestation

Defense lawyer points out repeated changes in accuser’s story

By Dylan Goforth
Phoenix Staff Writer

— WAGONER — Jurors deliberated for nearly two hours Friday before returning a not guilty verdict against a Haskell man accused of lewd molestation.

Gene Allen Burkholder, 39, was acquitted by the eight-man, four-woman jury at 2 p.m.

He had been accused of molesting a 10-year-old girl in 2011. The girl, who played on a softball team Burkholder coached, first told law enforcement officials that Burkholder had placed his hand in her pants at a slumber party.

Burkholder has vehemently denied the charges, said his attorney, Eric Jones.

“My client has always maintained his innocence,” he said. “The jury returned a verdict that reflected that.”

Jones said the accusations against Burkholder changed multiple times over the course of the investigation. Court documents shows that Burkholder was first charged with rape after the girl told investigators that he inserted his fingers inside her.

During a preliminary hearing later in the year, the girl testified that Burkholder only stuck his hand down her pants that night on his couch. The charges were then amended to lewd molestation.  

District 27 Assistant District Attorney Joy Mohorovicic told jurors that Burkholder had preyed on the girl, who became scared afterward and didn’t tell anyone about what happened for almost a week.

Jones, however, said Burkholder had done nothing wrong. He disclosed the accusations shortly after they were made to the team members’ parents, none of whom pulled their kids off the team, Jones said.

“His denial has been constant,” Jones said. “He never wavered, though the story relayed by the girl changed four times.”

After the verdict was read, Burkholder stood and hugged Jones before leaving the courtroom.

Reach Dylan Goforth at (918) 684-2903 or dgoforth@muskogeephoenix.com.