GLASGOW – A plea of not guilty was entered in Barren Circuit Court on Monday for the now former teacher at Barren County Middle School accused of having sexual encounters with a 13-year-old student.
William K. Gardner, 27, of Glasgow was arrested Oct. 26 by Adam Bow, a Barren County Sheriff's Office detective, who was investigating the related sexual abuse allegation, after Bow interviewed Gardner.
Gardner was originally charged with three counts of second-degree rape with no force, a Class C felony; five counts of first-degree sexual abuse, a Class D felony; and one count of tampering with physical evidence, also a Class D felony. He had waived a preliminary hearing in district court, which has the effect of sending the case directly to a grand jury.
On Wednesday, a Barren County grand jury chose to indict him instead on more severe charges: three counts of first-degree unlawful transaction with a minor, illegal sex act, under 16 years old, which is a Class B felony, and one count of unlawful use of electronic means to induce a minor to engage in sexual or other prohibited activities, a Class D felony. The original charges were dismissed.
The Class B felony charges each carry a potential sentence of 10 to 20 years, and, if convicted, Gardner would have to serve at least 85 percent of the sentence before being eligible for parole.
The Class D charges carry sentences of one to five years, and only 20 percent of a sentence has to be served before parole eligibility.
At his circuit court arraignment, Circuit Judge John T. Alexander said the next step would be to set a pretrial conference, and as part of the scheduling discussion, said he didn't know how long the attorneys would need because there was probably some information Gardner's attorney, Steve Thornton, would want that hadn't been turned over to him yet.
Commonwealth's Attorney John Gardner, who has said he has no known familial relationship with the defendant, advised the judge that the information in the case is ready to be provided to the defense, and they set the pretrial conference for Jan. 27.
Thornton, who had unsuccessfully requested for a Bond reduction at William Gardner's last appearance in district court, said his client had been incarcerated for a month, and his sister and brother were there and his mother had agreed he could live with her if the defendant's $75,000 cash bond were changed to one “he could reasonably make.”
The defense attorney added that he would like for his client to receive an examination and treatment by a particular doctor in Bowling Green, and it would be cost-prohibitive for that occur while he's in custody. The person making the allegation lives 15 miles from the William Gardner's mother, so he asked for restrictions and/or home incarceration were he to be released.
“I think there are adequate remedies that could be put in place to ensure the safety of the victim, that there would be no contact …,” Thornton said.
John Gardner said the commonwealth opposed any modification to the bond or to home incarceration.
“He is charged with three Class B felonies ...,” the prosecutor said. “Mr. Gardner has admitted to those acts as well.”
Alexander this case, as with similar ones, present a difficult situation because the pretrial risk assessments do not take into consideration the nature or severity of the charges themselves but rather factors such as prior record and any history of a failure to appear in court. Based on the latter, the defendant's risk level is considered low.
“A considerable amount of judicial discretion” involved because of the factors the risk assessment considers and other issues that come into play, and in this case, the indictment charges were more serious than the ones he faced in district court, Alexander said. He said that following the indictment, he kept the bond the same as it had been, presuming that the district court had more information than he had at this time about the details of the case. All he has seen at this point is the indictment, he said.
“I'm not prepared at this point to commit to making any changes in that bond; I'm not ruling it out necessarily,” the judge said.
One “danger” he cited as a concern was that the allegation was not of a one-time action but rather a series of occurrences, and there were other individuals “of a tender age” to whom William Gardner had access.
He said he would take the request under advisement, though, and make a ruling before the date of the pretrial conference.
The student told Bow that William Gardner, “had, on at least five occasions, had sexual contact with the female,” according to Gardner's arrest citation.
The defendant “admitted to having sexual intercourse with the female juvenile on three different occasions” and “admitted to blocking the female juvenile on Snapchat because he thought someone may have found out about their relationship and feared getting into trouble,” also according to the citation.
The school system released a statement the day of the arrest saying it takes all allegations of sexual misconduct extremely seriously, was fully cooperating with law enforcement and would continue to closely monitor the situation and “take all appropriate actions necessary to protect our students."
A resignation from William Gardner was among a batch of personnel actions the Barren County Board of Education unanimously approved in one action without discussion at its Dec. 14 meeting.