The conviction of a former high school basketball coach accused of having an inappropriate relationship with a student has been reinstated by the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
In a decision issued Tuesday, the court reversed a decision by the 3rd District Court of Appeals, which found Marathon County Judge Mike Moran inappropriately had the jury decide whether or not a flip phone Rory McKellips had bought to use in the crime was a computerized communications device. The Appeals Court ruled that Moran should have asked if the use of the phone constituted communication via a computerized communication system.
McKellips, a former Mosinee and Athens coach, admitted to buying a prepaid cellphone for a teenager and then communicating with her frequently until the girl’s parents intervened.
Prosecutors say that the decision to overturn the conviction was uncalled for and that the jury instruction was a harmless error. Attorneys for McKellips contend that the law regarding what is or is not a computerized communications device is vague and broadly applied.
The Supreme Court’s majority decision says that the instructions sent by Moran, while erroneous, were a harmless error overall. They also decided that the wording of the statute was valid, and that “a person of ordinary intelligence would understand that using a cellphone to text or picture message with a child to entice sexual encounters violates the statute.”
Justice Shirley Abrahamson dissented with the majority, arguing that the fact that the law is vague is a problem because people should not have to guess what will or will not fall under legal definitions. She says the fact that the prosecution had to bring in an expert witness to testify about the nature of how cell phones work and how they might be computerized devices under the law means the law itself should be refined. “When the meaning of a statute varies from case to case based on expert testimony, it raises serious constitutional vagueness questions.”
McKellips is currently serving a ten year sentence in the case.
Contributed by WHBL