Michael John DeSarno, a former wrestling coach at St. John's College High School, was found guilty yesterday in Prince George's County Circuit Court of one count of child abuse involving a former Hammond High School student who said he was forced to commit a sex act in DeSarno's apartment in 1983.
DeSarno could receive a maximum jail sentence of 15 years. He is scheduled for sentencing on Sept. 13 and will remain free on personal recognizance until then.
The former coach also faces charges of child abuse and a fourth-degree sex offense in an unrelated trial that began yesterday afternoon.
As the jury delivered its verdict, many of DeSarno's supporters who had packed the courtroom during the trial shook their heads in disbelief while DeSarno looked to the ceiling and then slowly placed his head in his hands.
The recent Hammond High graduate, who attended DeSarno's training sessions during the off-season, testified earlier this week that he had met DeSarno during a wrestling tournament and decided to begin training with DeSarno to improve his skills.
In addition to practices held at an area high school gym, DeSarno also conducted private sessions at his Beltsville apartment, the 18-year-old told jurors.
During one of those sessions, DeSarno hypnotized the boy and then told him to disrobe and perform a sex act, according to the youth's testimony.
DeSarno testified that he used hypnosis to help wrestlers develop their concentration and that he hypnotized the youth to "try to develop his confidence and belief in himself." He said he touched only the boy's forehead.
But DeSarno also told jurors that on a separate occasion he did touch another hypnotized wrestler's buttocks and genitals, asking him if felt pain in those areas.
"I'm very disappointed; I'd hoped the jury would acquit him," said defense attorney Joseph DePaul minutes after the verdict had been read.
Prosecuting attorney Thomas McManus said that he was "satisfied" with the verdict. He said he believed that the boy's testimony removed any of the jurors' doubts.
Juror Sylvia Tennison of Calverton said that she and other jurors believed the youth "had absolutely no reason to fabricate something about a man who did so much for him and made him what he wanted to be," a champion wrestler.
Despite the verdict, many of DeSarno's supporters said they were still convinced of his innocence.
"Coach didn't do it; I don't see why the boy would make that up. I know he's innocent," said Billy Spears, with tears welling in his eyes, as he left the courtroom.