71-YEAR SEX CRIMES SENTENCE FOR SUN VALLEY AND SAN FERNANDO WRESTLING COACH
October 1, 2019
For nearly two-and-a-half decades, former wrestling coach Terry Gillard used his position as a trusted community member to draw poor and struggling students into wrestling for his teams in San Fernando and Sun Valley.
Once they were in his thrall, joining what he called his inner circle of wrestlers, prosecutors said, Gillard would manipulate his teenage victims into depraved sexual encounters with himself and other students.
To keep them in line, Gillard demanded loyalty, deriding other students as “snitches” who weren’t worthy of his attention, according to the victims and the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office.
On Tuesday, in an emotional court hearing attended by some of those same victims and their families, Gillard was sentenced to 71 years in state prison for dozens of sex crimes involving nine children, some who were preteens at the time their coach abused them.
The 58-year-old Gillard, clad in a blue jail jumpsuit, stared straight ahead without saying anything as three victims recounted years of sexual abuse at his hands.
One victim, now an adult, who wrestled as a teenager for the San Fernando Tigers, the team Gillard founded in 1990 at the Boys and Girls Club of San Fernando, called his former coach “a sexually broken” man who used his team members for his “sick, twisted fulfillment.”
“You weren’t a coach,” the victim said. “You were a sexual predator pretending to be a coach … you groomed me. You groomed us.”
Gillard was convicted in May of 47 counts of both felony and misdemeanor sex crimes: lewd conduct with children, oral copulation of minors, procuring children to engage in lewd acts and child molestation. Between 1991 and 2017, prosecutors said Gillard was confirmed to have abused seven boys and two girls between the ages of 11 and 17.
Gillard, who lived in Sylmar, coached for years at both John H. Francis Polytechnic High School in Sun Valley and the Boys and Girls Club. Prosecutors said crimes occurred on the Poly campus, in a Boys and Girls Club van, in Gillard’s cars, and in the homes of the victims.
All nine victims, plus three others who did not testify in the criminal case against Gillard, are suing the Los Angeles Unified School District and the Boys and Girls Club, saying officials at both failed to supervise Gillard and missed numerous “red flags” about his behavior, according to the victims’ attorneys.
Three victims who spoke at Tuesday’s court hearing described Gillard as a “father figure” to them. Each spoke of coming from broken homes where poverty and alcoholism made them vulnerable. Each said that made them eager to please Gillard, who praised their wrestling prowess and made them feel important.
“I had dreams of winning the Olympic gold, with you as the coach by my side,” said one victim, still a teenager, who spoke Tuesday. “Now you’re just another skeleton in my closet that I have to deal with.”
The victims described being forced to have sexual encounters with more than one person.
Rumors about the encounters opened her up to bullying, said a woman who was 14 years old when the abuse began. She was called “a whore” and was ostracized by both students and teachers, she said, but for years was too afraid to report the abuse and cross Gillard.
“Being a snitch was one of the worst betrayals we talked about,” she said. “We watched everyone we thought would be a snitch with a careful eye … little did we know it’d be me at the end of the day.”
The same woman described being sexually assaulted by Gillard in her own home.
“Did you enjoy hearing me cry? Did you enjoy becoming the most disgusting pathetic excuse for a man I know?” she said. “The feeling of you just taking whatever you wanted made me pray for death. I am disgusting, I am worthless, I am stupid, I deserved it. Those are just some of the things I felt that day.”
Before he was sentenced, Gillard’s attorneys asked Superior Court Judge Hayden Zacky to offer their client leniency. They said Gillard was not afforded a fair trial, saying prosecutors withheld evidence that made their arguments on their client’s behalf moot. Zacky declined.
As he read each count, Zacky described the details of Gillard’s crimes. Forcing a boy to have sex with the mother of another wrestler in the back seat of his car while he watched. Forcing one female, teenage wrestler to have sex with a teammate to “lose weight” before a tournament in Fresno. Forcing two teenagers to have sex in the club van after a Christmas party.
Gillard showed no emotion throughout. He spoke only once, when the judge asked if Gillard understood his right to appeal his conviction.
“Yes, your honor,” he said. Gillard’s attorney Michael Levin said he would appeal.
Of the 47 counts Gillard was convicted of, Levin said he told the jury his client should only be convicted of one — a child annoyance and molestation charge.
During his tenure as coach, Gillard was only disciplined once by the school district, according to Morgan Stewart, an attorney for the victims; in 2015, a female campus aide complained to Poly administrators that Gillard propositioned her for sex and offered her money. The school suspended Gillard for one year.
Once he returned, prosecutors allege, he tried to kiss one of his female teenage victims “as a test of loyalty,” Judge Zacky said.
Gillard was arrested in 2017 after a victim filmed one of their sexual encounters in his car, then turned over the evidence to the Los Angeles Police Department. Zacky said the victim did so in order to go around LAUSD administrators, who she thought would not believe her. The video of the encounter was played in court for the jury.
Stewart’s law firm, Manly Stewart Vinaldi, and The Senators law firm have filed three separate lawsuits against LAUSD and the Boys and Girls Club. Stewart did not have an estimate for when those cases might go to trial.
In June when the third lawsuit was filed, LAUSD officials said in a written statement that the district had “changes in our policies and practices to strengthen the protections for our students.”
“While we have made much progress, we will continue to work diligently with our parents and the community to provide the safest possible environment for our students to learn and succeed,” the officials said.
Message from Executive Director Laura A. Ahearn: Please visit our website at www.crimevictimscenter.org for news, information and resources in your community.