By CHARLES WEBSTER
A jury of nine men and three women today convicted “Coach Bart” McInerney on 10 counts of child endangerment for carrying on sexually explicit conversations with a boys between 15 and 17 years old and convincing those boys to text-message him when they masturbated.
The three-week trial of Bartholomew McInerney, 43, of Spring Lake Heights, once a well-liked and respected baseball coach at St. Rose High School in Belmar, revealed he preyed on young players with secret talks that pried into their sexual activity with their girlfriends and steered them toward masturbating and reporting the act to the coach in instant messages and texts.
McInerney is slated to be sentenced on April 23, and faces up to 100 years in prison.
A dozen young men — 11 former players of McInerney’s and one who worked at the family business, McInerney’s Custom Lettering — testified about the disgraced coach’s “uncomfortable” and “awkward” conversations prying into their personal lives.
The victims repeatedly told stories of McInerney cornering them during practice, after practice, at school events, and during seemingly innocent drives home offered by the coach that quickly turned from an anti-drug or -alcohol lecture to probing questions about their sexual activity.
Once the boys admitted to having sexual relations with their girlfriends or hinted that sexual activity was near, McInerney would offer advice that always included masturbation.
Once he convinced the boys masturbation was an alternative to sexual relations, he offered cash payouts for cell phone text messages and Internet instant messages telling him the deed was completed, and using a code to reveal how long it took and how it felt.
McInerney was indicted in October 2008 on 12 counts of child endangerment involving 12 alleged victims. On Monday, state Superior Court Judge Anthony J. Mellaci dismissed one of the charges, ruling the activity occurred after one young man’s 18th birthday.
The jury began its deliberations on Thursday. A knock came from their room Friday morning, after 6 1/2 hours of deliberations, with the message that they were prepared to deliver a verdict.
The jury forewoman first announced a not-guilty verdict on one count, then guilty verdicts on the remaining 10 charges.
Jackie Clark, the mother of a 13th alleged victim, 18-year-old Andrew M. Clark, said afterward that she could finally have some closure. She sat in the courtroom for each day of the trial.
“I’m elated that he got 10 guilty charges for what he did to these boys,” she said outside the courthouse. “It’s some closure for me. I’ll never have my son back, but it’s some closure.”
Andrew Clark, a former player of McInerney’s at St. Rose, died just after midnight on June 20, 2008, hours after attending a graduation ceremony at Manasquan High School, where he transferred for his junior year after McInerney’s arrest. He was struck by an NJ Transit train near the Wall Road crossing in Spring Lake.
The death was never conclusively ruled an accident or suicide, but his mother alleges abuse by McInerney was a factor in it. The death came before McInerney was indicted, and endangerment charges involving Andrew Clark were not pursued.
Jackie Clark filed a civil suit against McInerney on behalf of her son’s estate in August 2008. The suit alleges that Andrew Clark was “sexually abused, harassed and endangered” by McInerney, court records show. The lawsuit, which also names St. Rose High School and the Diocese of Trenton as defendants, had been on hold pending the outcome of the criminal trial.
Testimony from at least six victims during the trial revealed McInerney had kept a grip on the young men even after they went off to college, where at least one of the victims continued to text his old coach into his senior year.
At least three of McInerney’s victims said the coach tried to lure them into masturbating for a video camera. One said he was offered McInerney’s dorm room at the University of Alaska, where the team had traveled for a baseball tournament. The victim said McInerney offered him a condom to masturbate in the room, where he found a video camera pointed in his direction.
Two other victims said McInerney gave them his personal video camera with instructions to videotape themselves masturbating so they could learn from viewing their facial expressions during the sex act. They said he offered to destroy the videotape with them to keep others from finding the images.
One victim told of a two-hour car ride home to Brick from a basketball game in Belmar. He said the conversation focused on masturbation, sexual activity and the idea of texting for money.