A former high school wrestling coach convicted of sex-related charges involving nine children was sentenced this week to 71 years in state prison.
Before sentencing, the judge said the coach “transitioned from a mentor to a monster.”
As the sentence was read, the coach stared forward, pursed his lips but showed no emotion.
Lawyers representing the victims said they are pursuing lawsuits against both the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and the Boys & Girls Club of San Fernando Valley in Pacoima.
A jury in the City of San Fernando found Terry Terrell Gillard, 58, of Sylmar, guilty May 7 of 47 felony and misdemeanor counts involving seven boys and two girls that he met through the wrestling teams at John H. Francis Polytechnic High School in Sun Valley, and the Boys and Girls Club between 1991 and 2017.
The victims were between the ages of 11 and 17, according to Deputy District Attorney Cathy Lee.
Jurors this week at the San Fernando Courthouse convicted him of three felony counts each of committing a lewd act on a child, committing a lewd act on a child 14 or 15 and oral copulation of a person under 18, along with 28 felony counts of procuring a child to engage in a lewd act and 10 misdemeanor counts of child molestation.
Some victims, with much emotion, spoke during the sentencing hearing about the impact the abuse has had on their lives.
“You groomed us and once you gained our trust, you took advantage of us,” one of them said. “You sexually exploited us. You did so and have never shown any remorse for it.”
A female student said, “You told me I was part of your family as you fixed your hair in my bedroom mirror, tears ran down my cheeks as I tried to keep myself together. Tears, because the person I trusted the most had just raped me.”
Another victim said Gillard told him how special he was and he knew “he could trust him not to say anything.”
“I was like the elephant in the room, with people coming up to me and asking if the rumors were true, making what I was dealing with even harder,” said another student.
According to court records, Gillard went so far as to direct young wrestlers between 2014 and 2017 to engage in sexual acts with each other while he watched in his personal vehicles or in a van owned and maintained by the Boys and Girls Club.
One account cites a boy as young as 11-years-old being directed by Gillard to have sex with a woman while he watched, and then he sexually abused the boy.
Gillard targeted students who didn’t have father figures. The judge said, “They looked up to him as their father, parent and role model and he robbed them of their innocence, shattered their youth, and now he must pay the price for his acts.”
Three of the victims have sued the former coach, the Los Angeles Unified School District and the Boys and Girls Club of San Fernando Valley, alleging that the institutions had prior knowledge of Gillard’s misconduct and should have removed him from having contact with children
Outside court, attorneys from two law firms representing most of the victims lauded the lengthy prison sentence for Gillard.
“All of our clients are grateful to the criminal justice system for convicting Mr. Gillard and removing him from society so he can no longer abuse children,” said attorney Morgan Stewart. “We must now turn our attention to an equally important quest — for justice through the civil courts so victims, their families and the community at large can get to the truth of how Gillard was able, over a period of many years, to use the cover of a public high school and Boys and Girls Club wrestling teams to establish what amounted to an underage sex cult and child sex trafficking operation.
“We believe that lawsuits now pending against LAUSD (the Los Angeles Unified School District) and the Boys and Girls Club will lead us to that truth.”
Another attorney, Ronald Labriola, said the sentence “reflects both the harm and the pain that was caused to the victims of Mr. Gillard’s abuse” and the “length of time over which Mr. Gillard abused these victims — many years, many locations, on campus, off-campus, in cars and other locations.”
He called the victims “the real heroes in this story.”
“Mr. Gillard was arrested because of the courage and the bravery of these young victims, young high school students, some as young as in their freshman year,” Labriola added.
The LAUSD issued a statement saying, “Terry Gillard was placed on leave on June 9, 2017, and separated from Los Angeles Unified on June 22, 2017. Our thoughts are with the students and families affected by this situation. We remain vigilant in providing a safe and welcoming learning environment for all students.”
Gillard’s Attorney, Michael Levin, has filed an appeal.