ELLSWORTH – The trial of a former Tremont Consolidated School teacher accused of sexually assaulting a female student began Monday in Hancock County Unified Criminal Court.
Benjamin Hodgdon II of Tremont has been charged with four counts of gross sexual assault, two counts of unlawful sexual contact and two counts of sexual abuse of a minor for his alleged molestation of a female student. Hodgdon was indicted on the charges in April 2014.
In opening statements to the jury, the prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney Toff Toffolon, described Hodgdon as engaging in so-called grooming behavior that began when the alleged victim, who will be 30 this month, was 12 years old. Hodgdon was about 35 years old, and was her teacher and cross country coach.
“He was a person [she] trusted,” Toffolon said. “He was a person a young girl had a crush on.”
According to the prosecutor, Hodgdon told her she was “special” and “pretty.” His attention allegedly led to kissing, fondling and intercourse, Toffolon said.
The alleged sexual assaults took place at Hodgdon’s home, in his truck and at the school and continued until she entered high school, Toffolon continued.
Toffolon acknowledged the alleged victim has had issues involving drugs that led to troubles with the law and a prison sentence. He also told the jury that Hodgdon provided her with access to prescription painkillers even when she was a student at the Tremont school.
“In exchange for sex he was supplying her with Vicodin,” he said.
In his opening statement, defense attorney David Van Dyke told the jury that the woman’s allegations had been fabricated, saying “this is the barest of he said-she said cases you’ll ever see.”
Van Dyke said his client and the woman had maintained friendly contact in the years leading up to the allegations as shown through the hundreds of text messages and phone calls she made to Hodgdon. Van Dyke claimed the allegations were in retribution to his client’s decision to stop giving the woman money and her jealousy over his relationship with another woman.
“She only began to make these allegations after he stopped giving her money and married her peer,” Van Dyke said.
The jury will see, Van Dyke said, that “there’s nothing here but the changing story of a troubled young woman.”
The woman was first to take the stand Monday. In her testimony, she reiterated many of allegations made by Toffolon in his opening statement. Along with being his student, she said she was his babysitter and he was her tutor and had employed her in his lawn care business.
“I trusted him. I cared about him. I cared about his kids,” she said. “He made me feel safe and special and loved.”
Hodgdon told her he “loved” and “cared about me” and that people wouldn’t understand their relationship because of the age difference and his “position of power” as a teacher, she said. Hodgdon would tell her not to let anyone know of their relationship because he could lose his children, she said.
Also testifying Monday were Detective Steve McFarland of the Hancock County District Attorney’s Office, who was lead investigator in the case, and two former teachers at the school and one former ed tech. The testimony of former physical education teacher Barry Stratton and his wife, ed tech Janet Stratton, was admitted as a video deposition because the couple was unable to appear in the courtroom. They and former teacher Terry Stanley testified that it was unlikely that Hodgdon could have sexually assaulted a student at the school without the act being noticed.
The trial is to resume Tuesday.
According to Van Dyke, Hodgdon is expected to take the stand on Wednesday.