December 5, 2013

Former Lipan High School coach sentenced to 54 years

Three girls testified that Tyson James Nolen embarked in continuous sexual encounters with them at the school.

This article contains sexually explicit language.

A former Lipan High School baseball coach was sentenced to 54 years in prison without the chance of parole for continually sexually abusing a 13-year-old student, one of three underage girls whom he was accused of molesting.

Though Tyson James Nolen was only tried in connection with one of the victims, all three girls took the stand during the trial earlier this week, testifying about their encounters with the coach, who had also worked as a world history and world geography teacher at the small school northwest of Granbury.

Hood County District Attorney Rob Christian said the inappropriate relationships began around November 2012, with Nolen texting two of the girls and later asking them to send him inappropriate videos and photographs of themselves. In turn, Christian said, Nolen sent the girls pictures of his penis.

Testimony showed that Nolen, 26, later engaged in oral sex and other sexual contact with the girls, often in his classroom between classes, Christian said. With one of the girls, encounters also took place on a school bus that Nolen sometimes drove, he said.

One of the girls was 13 when the abuse started; the other two girls were 15, Christian said.

Frustrated with sentence

A jury took about 30 minutes Wednesday to convict Nolen on a charge of continuous sexual abuse of a child under age 14 in connection with the 13-year-old victim. A relatively new offense, the statute requires that sentences be served without the possibility of parole.

After the punishment phase of the trial, the jury deliberated another couple of hours Wednesday before sentencing Nolen to 54 years in prison. He had faced anywhere between 25 to 99 years or life in prison.

Nolen’s defense attorney, R. Shay Isham, called the case a “terrible situation for everybody to be in” but expressed frustration with the sentencing options under the law.

“You can get in a car and get drunk and run over and kill four people and the maximum sentence you could receive is 20 years and you’d be eligible for parole after one-fourth of your sentence,” Isham said. “But in a case like this, there’s no parole and the minimum is 25 years and the maximum is life.

“It was a shocking case, but the punishment certainly is shocking in that the legislators really didn’t give the local jurors much discretion,” he added. “… It’s one of those political deals where state senators can carry that so they can get elected and say, ‘I’m tough on crime.’ That’s what it’s all about.”

Girl denies encounters

The allegations against Nolen almost went nowhere.

When word of sexual misconduct between Nolen and one of the older girls first came to school officials’ attention, Nolen skirted trouble.

The teen was questioned by the principal and superintendent but denied that the sexual encounters she had confided to a friend had ever occurred.

“The girl said that everything she said about the coach was not true, that she had dreamed it,” Christian said.

The girl was, in turn, placed in in-school suspension. Nolen, he would later tell authorities, was informed by school officials about the “false” allegation made against him but was told that the school had taken care of it.

Lipan is a small district with about 300 students, including 70 in the high school.

Christian said school officials did alert the girl’s mother and a Lipan city marshal about what they believed was a false allegation.

“The girl’s mother believed the school, and did not tell her husband about it because she didn’t want the daughter to get in any more trouble,” Christian said.

Journal reveals details

The marshal testified that he did not question Nolen because the school had told him it was a false rumor, Christian said.

“Around this same time that girl was caught shoplifting cosmetics at Wal-Mart,” Christian said. “Her father found out about that and was very angry. In the course of trying to find out what was going on with his daughter, why she was acting out this way and getting in trouble, he went through her personal things, including her journal. In the journal, he read about inappropriate things that the coach had done to his daughter.”

The father alerted the Hood County’s Sheriff’s Department, which worked with the District Attorney’s office in investigating Nolen.

Christian said investigator Robert Young recorded a phone call between the girl and Nolen after getting permission from the girl and her mother. In the call, played for jurors during the trial, Nolen acknowledged his sexual relationship with the girl and tried to downplay her concerns that everyone believed she was a liar.

“He said everybody will get over it, keep telling the story you told,” Christian said, paraphrasing Nolen’s words. “You can’t tell the truth. I’ll lose my job and I’ll go to jail.”

The two other victims came forward after Nolen’s arrest in the case, Christian said.

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