Ben-Gals cheerleader pleads not guilty to sexually abusing student
BY JIM HANNAH Gannett News Service April 2, 2012 6:46PM
Sarah Jones in court on April 2, 2012. | Patrick Reddy~AP
Updated: May 4, 2012 8:12AM
COVINGTON, Ky. — A Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader indicted for allegedly having a sexual relationship with a student when she was a high school teacher pleaded not guilty to the charges Monday.
Sarah Jones, 26, the team captain of the Ben-Gals cheerleading squad, pleaded not guilty Monday in Kenton Circuit Court to first-degree sexual abuse. She also pleaded not guilty to unlawful use of electronic means to induce a minor to engage in sexual or other prohibited activities, a charge often reserved for people who peddle in child pornography over the Internet. The charges are in connection to allegations she had a sexual relationship with a senior at Dixie Heights High School in Edgewood, Ky.
Jones’ mother, 55-year-old Cheryl Jones, appeared in court at her daughter’s side to plead not guilty to tampering with physical evidence in the case. Cheryl Jones was suspended from her job as principal at Twenhofel Middle School in Independence, Ky., after being indicted Thursday.
Each of the charges is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.
Sarah Jones’ estranged husband does not have much to say about the allegations against his wife.
“To be honest with you, I don’t want to talk about her,” said Nathan Wilburn, who was 26 when the couple married nine months ago. They are seeking to annul their marriage. Sarah Jones’ amended petition for annulment was filed March 21. Sarah Jones married Wilburn on July 16, according to public records, but Sarah Jones moved out of her husband’s residence Aug. 24. According to the petition for annulment filed in Kenton Circuit Court, the marriage was not consummated.
Judge Patricia Summe reduced Sarah Jones’ $50,000 bond and Cheryl Jones’ $30,000 bond to $15,000 each. She required the pair to be placed on electric monitoring as a term of their release.
Summe ordered the daughter and mother to have no contact with the underage victim and his family despite the fact that the victim’s relatives attended the arraignment in support of the Joneses. The two families sat in the same pew in the courtroom’s gallery as they waited for the case to be called.
“The families are friends,” said the Joneses’ attorney, Charles Lester Jr. He is representing Sarah Jones and Cheryl Jones until his law partner, radio personality Eric Jones, returns April 24 from a 61-day suspension for the practice of law in Kentucky.
The case is set for trial June 27.
“The commonwealth feels we have sufficient evidence to go forward, as did a grand jury,” said Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Sara Farmer of Jefferson County.
While Farmer declined to give specifics on the evidence, it is clear much of it is text messages. Summe even ordered that text messaging on Sarah Jones’ and Cheryl Jones’ mobile phones be disabled as a term of their release from jail.
Several computers have also been seized as part of the investigation. Lester asked that the computer of the victim’s sister be returned because she used it for school, but Farmer said an analysis of its hard drive had not been completed.
Lester told Summe he was concerned he would not be ready for trial because of the electronic evidence. He indicated the defense may want to hire its own expert to complete an independent forensic exam.
The indictment states the alleged sexual relationship with the high school student took place between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31. Sarah Jones resigned Nov. 29 from Dixie Heights, where she taught freshman English for about five years.
The Bengals’ website lists Sarah Jones as the team captain for its 2011 cheerleading squad. Tryouts for this year have not taken place.
Sarah Jones’ amended petition for annulment was filed March 21. Sarah Jones married Wilburn on July 16, according to public records, but Sarah Jones moved out of her husband’s residence Aug. 24.
According to the petition for annulment filed in Kenton Circuit Court, the marriage was not consummated.