PROVO — A Utah County baseball coach was sentenced to prison Wednesday for inappropriately touching a teenage boy he coached and employed.
In a lengthy and emotional apology to the teen and to his own family, Michael Aram Jenkins, 48, said opiate addiction stemming from chronic back pain was among the factors that led him to believe there was nothing inappropriate about the arrangement with the then-16-year-old.
"My addiction to pain medications does not excuse my actions and choices … but I am sure that my use of opiates led to my irrational behavior that led me to offend," Jenkins said.
He also pointed to sexual abuse by several men during his own childhood, but offered no further explanation.
Jenkins, of Springville, claimed that fear of incarceration, separation from his own children, public shame and excommunication from the church he attended spurred him to deny the allegations against him for more than a year. But as he listened to the evidence against him at trial, Jenkins said he began to realize how wrong his actions had been.
Within days of the conviction, Jenkins began intensive therapy, where he and his attorneys say he has made great strides.
"I am ready to take responsibility for my actions," he said. "I accept the jury's verdict."
Jenkins apologized to the teen and his parents, who did not attend the hearing, saying he acknowledges he violated the boy's trust and abused his position as a coach, employer and role model. He also described the toll the allegations against him has taken on his wife and children.
"I want them to know I am working on myself. I will never do this again," he said.
Jenkins asked for probation so he could continue attending therapy while working to support his family. His attorneys suggested jail time. But prosecutors insisted said the offense warranted prison time.
"There is nowhere to go but prison in this case," prosecutor Lauren Hunt told the judge. "We need Mr. Jenkins to know and we need the public to know our kids are not fair game. … You touch our kids, you go to prison."
Hunt said the teen chose not to attend the hearing in an effort to move on with his life, and that the boy's parents were asking for prison time for Jenkins.
As he handed down the sentence, 4th District Judge James Taylor said Jenkins' crimes were carried out over several months, escalating as time passed, and involved a victim trapped between revulsion for what was happening and his desire to keep his job and play sports.
"Lengthy incarceration is warranted as a punitive measure in this case," Taylor said, noting that if detained in Utah County Jail, Jenkins would likely be in custody less than a year.
The judge sentenced Jenkins to concurrent sentences of at least one and up to 15 years in prison for his conviction of four counts of forcible sexual abuse, a second-degree felony. Additional sentences of up to six months for two counts of lewdness, a class B misdemeanor, will also run concurrently.
The judge also ordered that Jenkins, who has been out on bail since charges were filed in April 2016, be taken immediately into custody. As he was handcuffed and led from the courtroom, Jenkins looked back and mouthed a goodbye to his family.
A jury found Jenkins guilty of the charges in July.
In a preliminary hearing last year, the teen said Jenkins would request full-body rubdowns, eventually referring to them as "the regular massage." Despite feeling uncomfortable, the teen said he only objected on a few occasions because he was concerned for his job.
The teen had met Jenkins a few years earlier when playing baseball with the coach's son, and over time he had gone to him for training. When the boy needed money in late 2015 for the traveling competition baseball team that Jenkins led, the coach hired him to do cleaning and data entry for his janitorial business, as he had with other players.4 comments on this story
In between the two desks in his locked office, the teen said Jenkins would strip down to his underwear and have the teen massage him. Eventually Jenkins began offering the teen massages in return to loosen up muscles that were sore from playing baseball.
On at least 10 occasions, the teen testified that Jenkins briefly touched him inappropriately. He said he didn't know whether the contact was accidental.
Those who have experienced sexual abuse or assault can be connected to trained advocates through Utah's statewide 24-hour Rape and Sexual Assault Crisis Line at 888-421-1100.