- Associated Press - Thursday, June 9, 2016

DOVER, Del. (AP) - A former high school teacher and wrestling coach was sentenced Thursday to more than seven years in prison after pleading guilty to sexually abusing a female student.

Richard “Dickie” Howell II, 52, was sentenced after hearing his victim tell the judge how he had stolen her dreams and altered her life forever, and how she tries to cope with anxiety, nightmares and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I depend on a dog to function,” she said, appearing in court with her therapy service dog.

Howell apologized to her and her family.

“I’m sorry for all the harm that I’ve caused. I have and I do take full responsibility for this,” he said.

Howell faced up to 120 years in prison after pleading guilty in February to three counts of sexual abuse of a child by a person in a position of trust, each of which carries a two-year minimum, and three counts of fourth-degree rape, a felony with no mandatory prison time.

The former Caesar Rodney High School coach was formally sentenced to the maximum 120 years in prison, but Judge Jeffrey Clark suspended all but seven years and three months behind bars, with credit for time served.

Howell was arrested last year after the student, then 17, reported that he had sex with her over several months in 2014, including encounters at school and his home. Investigators found explicit texts and graphic photos and videos of Howell on the girl’s cellphone.

“I trusted and I cared about a person who the whole time had an ulterior motive,” she said, adding that Howell had confided in her and even shared a “darkest demon,” which she did not describe. She recounted how after his arrest, he tried to turn the community against her and blame her for what happened.

“Right now, I don’t have one friend left in the state of Delaware,” said the young woman, adding that she was even unable to attend her own high school graduation because of Howell.

Prosecutor Kathleen Dickerson also told the judge how some of Howell’s fellow educators blamed the girl.

“Richard Howell was an educator, and he violated the trust that was put in him,” Dickerson said. “He was the adult… He knew right from wrong. … He crossed the line, and he crossed the line repeatedly.”

Dickerson recounted how the relationship began with “flirty” texting after the girl took a summer gym class under Howell and subsequently became a manager of the wrestling team.

The physical encounters began with oral sex on school property and eventually led to sexual intercourse.

“She lost her virginity to her teacher in his living room,” said Dickerson, who also described how Howell repeatedly requested and received nude pictures of the girl and once sent her a video of himself masturbating.

Dickerson recounted one incident in which Howell, having received a photograph from the girl, told her in a text how young and innocent she looked.

“I sound like a molester,” Howell added.

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