NEWARK - Gary Stratford used a handkerchief to wipe his face as he turned to a packed Licking County Courtroom and apologized for destroying his family.
Then, he told Judge David Branstool he took full responsibility for his actions, something he demonstrated minutes earlier by entering guilty pleas to two counts of rape, both first-degree felonies.
The former Lakewood Middle School football coach entered the pleas about two months after he was arrested in late September.
Assistant Licking County Prosecutor Jenna Joseph said on Sept. 23 and 24, Stratford provided a teenage girl with tequila and then engaged in sexual conduct with her on two separate occasions.
The victim in the case, who was not associated with Stratford's coaching at Lakewood or as a youth baseball coach, said in a written statement read to Branstool that she hoped Stratford got the help he deserved.
"You ruined my trust for all people," she wrote.
Stratford's attorney, Kristin Burkett, said her client has taken full responsibility for his actions from the moment the investigation began.
She said Stratford was speaking to police within 45 minutes of them requesting an interview and gave a full confession. Burkett also said Stratford was adamant the victim not be required to testify at a trial, requesting a change of plea hearing within a month of his indictment.
Burkett had requested a minimum sentence for Stratford, citing the counseling he voluntarily engaged in after his initial arrest and other sexual assault cases and the sentences imposed in those instances.
Joseph requested a prison sentence of between eight and 10 years, citing the seriousness of Stratford's conduct.
Stratford offered a short statement of his own, apologizing to the courtroom full of his family and friends.
"She did not deserve any of this," he said of his victim.
Branstool imposed a seven year prison term. After his release from prison, Stratford will be required to register as a Tier III sexual offender every 90 days for the remainder of his life.
Stratford had been placed on unpaid leave from Lakewood Local Schools following his arrest. He had been employed through a one-year contract as a coach, which was for the football season.