Before a popular soccer coach was sentenced in court Friday for taking sexual advantage of a vulnerable, teen-age girl, the victim's father took the stand.
Looking straight at the convicted man, the anguished father said, "Bernie McHale, you've indelibly scarred our family ... I will always regret your existence."
WHEN THE dust cleared, Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Terrence Ney sentenced McHale, 42, of 12023 Golf Ridge Court in Penderbrook, to five years in prison. He suspended all that time, but then served a warrant for McHale's arrest at the request of the Department of Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS).
Since McHale is a citizen of England and has been convicted of a felony, he's now at risk of being deported. Once on the list of top soccer coaches in the area (the Washington Post's "All-Met Coach of the Year" in spring 2000), he's now on a new list — Virginia's Sex Offenders Registry.
His victim, now 23, was a girl who he used to coach in soccer, and they became friends. But when she went to the authorities, in summer 2003, she told detectives that McHale sexually assaulted her on more than one occasion at his former home on Rockaway Lane in Fairfax.
The incidents occurred when she was between the ages of 16 and 18. (Centre View is withholding her name since she is a victim). Police arrested McHale, June 27, 2003, charging him with one count of crimes against nature and two counts of custodial indecent liberties with a child.
A well-liked, charismatic coach, he'd been employed by Arlington Public Schools since 1998. He was an assistant special-education teacher and coached girls JV and varsity soccer at Yorktown High in Arlington. He also coached at The Potomac School, a private school in McLean, and previously coached club soccer with the DC Stoddert Soccer League in the District.
As the criminal case against McHale made its way through the court system, the grand jury indicted him in November on one of the indecent-liberties charges. He pleaded guilty, Jan. 14, and returned last Friday, April 23, for sentencing.
RIGHT BEFORE that happened, though, the charge was amended to crimes against nature (carnal knowledge) so it would be listed as a nonviolent, rather than a violent, offense on the sex registry. And the prosecution had previously agreed to a suspended sentence, in exchange for McHale's guilty plea.
Testifying Friday, the victim's father said he came to tell McHale the impact his crime has had on his family, the past seven years. He then read the victim-impact statement written by his daughter and directed at her former coach.
"You said I was your best friend," she wrote. "You said I was beautiful and a special person. I told you about my world, and I trusted you. I asked you for help. I was so vulnerable and naive. Then our talks turned sexual and I became afraid."
McHale drove the girl to and from work. "While sitting in your Jeep, your hands were all over me. When you'd come to pick me up in the morning, my dad would give me a Thermos or a piece of toast to take with me for breakfast, and I couldn't look my dad in the eye."
She said her father didn't know anything was wrong, because they both trusted McHale and she didn't let on that anything was amiss. She knew McHale had crossed a line he shouldn't have, but she was too mortified to tell anyone.
"I honestly believed no one would love me if anyone knew what had happened — and that my parents wouldn't love me, anymore," she wrote. "I suffered pain, shame and desperation — I wanted to die. I wanted to forget everything. I became an empty shell; I hated myself and pushed everyone away because I was dead inside."
Things eventually reached a point where the young woman tried to take her own life. In her statement, she told McHale, "I don't blame you for my suicide attempt, but I hold you responsible for the hopelessness I felt. You'll never know the depth of the pain and suffering I felt. There are no words to capture the impact your actions had on my life."
She explained that she knew she'd never feel better until she came forward and told someone. Then her father, in his own words, expressed the horror and amazement he felt upon learning how McHale had betrayed his daughter and his family — especially after she'd confided a particularly painful secret to him.
"BESIDES OUR daughter, you abused our friendship and our trust," he said. "Knowing our daughter had already been a victim of a date-rape, you further victimized her. How could you?"
Defense attorney Charles Kramer noted the letters and a doctor's report from the Augustus Institute in Alexandria (which treats sex offenders) that had been written on McHale's behalf. And Judge Ney said he'd read them all twice.
Although the victim's father asked that McHale be given some jail time, Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Solette Magnelli said the prosecution would abide by the plea agreement. However, she said that, because of McHale's actions, "This victim was changed forever."
Kramer said 20 people were in court Friday to show support for his client, and they'd all had contact with him, over the past 10 years. "Mr. McHale is very sorry," said his attorney. "He said that, if he could take it back, he would. He wished he had never done it. When he saw the victim-impact statement, he was sick to his stomach. He never meant to hurt her in any way, shape or form."
Kramer said McHale's supporters — knowing what they do now — would still let their daughters be coached by him. He said one parent even asked him to coach her daughter, this summer, because "that's how much faith and trust they have in Bernie. The soccer community is going to lose an excellent coach."
Then, in front of his pregnant wife and the victim's parents, McHale — who has a daughter of his own — stood and addressed the court. "Words cannot explain how remorseful I am," he said. "Never did I realize how these actions would affect her."
He apologized for the grief he brought and lamented how his "lack of judgment caused [the victim] so much distress and anguish. My most fervent wish is to remove the pain and sadness I caused her. I am truly sorry, from the bottom of my heart."
Before pronouncing sentence, the judge said the two positives on McHale's side were all the letters written on his behalf and a report from Dr. Eugene Dannemiller of the Augustus Institute saying that McHale "committed an act uncharacteristic of him that he's not ever likely to commit again."
"YET THE ONE, great negative is the profound damage that was caused to this child — because she was a child — her sister and her parents," said Ney. Noting that Kramer had earlier described the father's attitude that day as malicious, Ney disagreed, saying, "I heard not malice, but great hurt, pain and sadness coming from this child's father."
He then sentenced McHale to five years in prison, suspending it all and placing him on a year's supervised probation. McHale will also be entered into Virginia's registry of sex offenders, and a sample of his DNA will be included in the Virginia data bank for felons. After serving the INS warrant, Ney ordered McHale remanded into the custody of the sheriff.
Later, outside the courtroom, Kramer declined comment. However, the victim's father said he's glad that, since McHale is now a convicted felon and on the sex-offender registry, he won't be able to coach again. Her mother was pleased that "he won't be able to do this to someone else's child."