Former school trainer in sex abuse case set to plead guilty

James "Doc" Jensen Jr. (Custer County Sheriff's Office via AP, File)

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A former Montana athletic trainer who prosecutors say sexually abused numerous students over decades under the guise of improving their athletic performance is expected to plead guilty Tuesday to a federal charge of coercion and enticement.

The charge is related his use of the internet and telephones in the 1990s to coerce students to engage in sexual activity, but victims and prosecutors contend James “Doc” Jensen Jr.’s abuse occurred since the 1970s.

Jensen, 79, of Miles City is scheduled to appear before U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen in Missoula. Prosecutors said Jensen persuaded boys to join what he called “The Program” and then systematically abused them.

He faces up to 15 years in federal prison. Jensen’s public defender, Steve Babcock, said it was in his client’s best interest to plead guilty. Babcock declined further comment ahead of Tuesday’s hearing.

A criminal investigation began after more than a dozen alleged victims filed a lawsuit against Jensen and the school district in September. The abuse continued until at least 2002, said Dan Rice, an attorney for the alleged victims.

“Had they (the victims) not come forward, this probably would not have been investigated, and he would have remained living in his apartment in Miles City, right across the street from the middle school where my son goes to school,” Rice said.

One former student at Custer County District High School, where Jensen worked for more than two decades, said the trainer convinced boys going through puberty that they would grow stronger by submitting to repeated abuse, which prosecutors said included nude massages and sex acts.

When the high school’s football team won three championships in a row, it seemed to confirm the effectiveness of Jensen’s program, said the former student, who said he was abused an estimated 300 times. The Associated Press typically does not identify alleged sex abuse victims.

The plea hearing was twice delayed — once because of a last-minute filing by prosecutors and a second time when Jensen said he wanted to enter his plea before Christensen instead of the magistrate.

Jensen has acknowledged some of the abuse, but denied other allegations. During interviews with investigators, he equated his program to Chinese acupuncture and said he “had applied it to hundreds of children,” according to court filings.

The federal indictment was filed in December and focused on Jensen’s actions from 1995 until 1999.

Prosecutors said Jensen sexually abused students on athletic-related trips to North Dakota and California and pretended he was a teenager online to meet underage boys in the 1990s.

At the time, the statute of limitations for prosecuting child sex crimes was 10 years. That means Jensen hasn’t been criminally charged with abusing former students.

Reports said he contacted some of his victims via social media shortly after the statute of limitations ran out.

Partially in response to Jensen’s case, Montana lawmakers are considering legislation that would end the statute of limitations for prosecuting sex crimes.

Jensen also faces state charges of possessing child pornography after authorities investigating the lawsuit’s claims raided his retirement home and found 10 images of underage boys who were nude or engaged in sex acts.

He has pleaded not guilty to the state charges. A trial in that case was scheduled for June.

Categories: Crime, National News