Former Rome High School wrestling coach sentenced to prison for sex with student
A former Rome High School wrestling coach pleaded guilty Thursday to having a sexual relationship with a girl on one of his teams and was sentenced to 10 years, with four to serve behind bars.
Bryan Aspera, 45, must register as a sex offender when he’s released.
“I should have been a stronger person,” Aspera said in a breaking voice during a lengthy apology to the victim, his dozens of supporters in the courtroom and to his wife and child.
Floyd County Superior Court Chief Judge Tami Colston said she took into account the testimony in praise of Aspera offered by former students, their parents and his co-workers.
“But, in this seat you can’t forget a grown man, a teacher, a coach, took advantage of a 16-year-old child,” she said.
Assistant District Attorney Kay Ann Wetherington had agreed to seek no more than 20 years with 10 to serve, in exchange for a guilty plea on a felony charge of sexual assault by a person with a supervisory or disciplinary authority.
Aspera’s attorney, Alex Susor of Decatur, pressed for no more than a year in prison, saying a psychosexual evaluation of his client by a member of the state’s sex offender review board indicates Aspera is neither a pedophile nor a predator.
“He was truly an individual that many people looked up to, which is why this case was so shocking to the community…It was inappropriate, it was wrong, it was criminal — but it appeared to be based on respect and love,” Susor said.
Wetherington said the sexual relationship started in August 2011, when the then 39-year-old took the 16-year-old athlete to a wrestling awards banquet in Atlanta, then to a movie and dinner. After that, the girl would meet Aspera before school at Grizzard Park two or three times a week and go to his home for sex.
The coach lived next door to District Attorney Leigh Patterson, Wetherington said, so sometimes the girl would get into the trunk of his car to ensure Patterson didn’t see the two together. The physical contact lasted until the victim graduated in May 2013, although they kept in touch online through February 2014 after she went to college in Colorado.
Wetherington said the victim, who now lives in another state, is from a traditional family that still doesn’t know about the relationship. The girl thought Aspera loved her and wanted to be with her, but felt shamed. She grew estranged from her family and increasingly anxious and depressed. She couldn’t afford therapy so went to a church, where a pastor convinced her to contact Rome police.
Investigators were listening in when she called Aspera this March and he acknowledged the long-term relationship.
“He took my childhood, my virginity, my safety,” the victim wrote in a statement submitted in court before the sentencing.
Colston heard from two of the 30 or so supporters of Aspera who attended the sentencing.
A father openly sobbed as he told how Aspera mentored his young son in both wrestling and academics. And a young professional woman called Aspera her coach, teacher and friend who guided her from high school — where he tolerated no disrespect for the girls’ wrestling team — all the way through graduate school.
“It’s a great loss to the community that he will no longer be allowed to be a teacher,” she said.
Colston said she was touched by reports that Aspera would often feed and outfit students who were in need, but “my job is to remember” the young girl he took advantage of from his position of authority.
Following the sentencing Patterson, the district attorney, pointed out that Aspera’s supporters slammed the victim on social media and questioned her character when the charges were filed.
“All those people are the reason victims of child sex abuse don’t want to report the crime,” she said.
Patterson also expressed disgust at the subterfuge that played out in the family home next to hers.
“The real Bryan Aspera is the one who made that 16-year-old hide in the trunk of his car while he snuck her into his house. He’s right where he needs to be now,” she said.