Robert Leslie Morrow showed little emotion as Cherokee Chief Superior Court Judge N. Jackson Harris ordered him to serve 240 days behind bars, with the rest of the decade on sex offender probation.
Before Harris’ decision, Morrow, a 30-year-old former varsity wrestling coach, did take the stand and express remorse for his actions.
“I’m truly sorry for what happened in my lapse of judgment,” said the former coach, who was convicted Feb. 27 of sexual assault by a person of authority. “I do want to apologize to the family. I just want to say ‘I’m sorry’ to everybody who’s here today.”
Morrow’s attorneys stressed that the incident with the student was consensual and that Morrow pleaded not guilty in the case because of technical questions about the charge but didn’t deny what he had done. The incident happened in Morrow’s car outside a business complex in the River Park subdivision off Sixes Road, authorities have said. The girl was 16.
For the victim’s family, Morrow’s regrets can’t take away pain caused by his actions, her mother said.
The mother wept on the stand and told the court that her daughter had been active and popular in school before the incident but became reclusive and distant afterward. Authorities have asked that the identity of the girl be protected.
The mother said the teen kept the incident a secret as she sank into depression for several months.
Before revealing what happened, the girl wanted to leave River Ridge High and transfer to another school, her mother said. The mother allowed it, but word soon got out with her new classmates of the incident, and she wanted to transfer to an alternative school so she could get on a fast track and be done with high school.
“She was running,” her mother said. “It’s kind of stopped her in her tracks.”
The mother told the court she felt compassion for Morrow and his family, but “I still can’t deny the effect it’s had on her.”
Morrow’s mother, Linda Morrow, asked the judge for leniency. She painted a picture of the 30-year-old, her only child, as someone who was trying to get his life on track and learn from his mistakes.
“My son’s a good person,” she said.
The former coach was arrested Aug. 11, 2011, by the Woodstock Police Department, after resigning from River Ridge the month before, as the investigation was ramping up. He had worked as a wrestling coach and paraprofessional there since 2009. Before that, he worked at Creekview High School.
Another River Ridge teacher, Kristin May, was also charged in the case after officials say she failed to report Morrow’s crime to police, after the girl told her about it. May is appealing the charges, according to court officials. While on the stand Friday, Robert Leslie Morrow said he had been having an affair with May around the time of the incident with the student.
Since his arrest, Morrow has been doing odd jobs for family members and living with his parents in Canton. He’s also completed a master’s degree online and has a job as a welding apprentice waiting for him when he gets out of prison, his mother said.
Linda Morrow told the judge her son “has always been a happy-go-lucky person and would not hurt a soul.”
But she said he has made “mistakes.”
“Leslie is very remorseful about what happened,” Linda Morrow said, as she wept and her son shook his head from side to side in sorrow. “I am asking for mercy for my son.”
The prosecutor in the case, Cherokee Assistant District Attorney Wally Rogers, though, pulled few punches when laying the state’s case to Harris, saying that the victim meant “nothing” to Morrow and was only someone the coach wanted to use for sex.
Rogers said he was impressed the victim’s family didn’t “come into this courtroom screaming for blood.”
“The only regret that I’ve seen from Mr. Morrow is that he got caught,” Rogers added, before unsuccessfully asking the judge to make the former coach serve four years in prison. “She was not a ‘mistake.’ She’s a person who’s damaged. It’s like he doesn’t have any real appreciation for what it did to this child.”
Harris disagreed with Rogers, saying Morrow did appear to be remorseful, although his conduct wasn’t acceptable.
“Mr. Morrow, you were a professional, and as a professional you had a duty,” the judge told the former coach. “The long-term effect of your conduct can’t be measured.”
Harris said Morrow’s actions made victims of the teen and her family. Cases such as Morrow’s also affect the entire community and strike fear into the hearts of parents, he said.
“Parents spend their lives to protect their children,” Harris said. “Parents should not have to fear sending their children to school.”