Defiantly proclaiming his innocence until the very end, a former private-school track coach in Corona del Mar was sentenced Tuesday to 19 years in prison for winning over the trust of 19 young students, then forcing them to perform sexual acts with him and each other.
In a loud and unwavering voice, Alan Thomas Rigby of Irvine told a Santa Ana courtroom packed with parents of his victims that he had pleaded guilty earlier this year to 36 child-molestation counts only to avoid the prospect of spending nearly 8 decades behind bars.
“In my heart and in my mind, I know there was not one episode of sexual molestation between myself and those youths,” said Rigby, 41, speaking publicly for the first time about what prosecutors call the largest molestation scandal in county history.
His bold assertions, stunning the Santa Ana courtroom, contradicted 2 years of evidence and testimony collected by prosecutors to show that Rigby used pornographic materials and formed a boys’ club to lure primarily fifth- and sixth-grade students into performing sexual acts in 1986-87.
“I never have been more offended by a man who consistently refuses to acknowledge any remorse,” said Deputy Dist. Atty. Lew R. Rosenblum, the prosecutor. “He seems to accept little responsibility for what he did to these children.”
According to attorneys in the case, Rigby’s tone also apparently angered Superior Court Judge Myron S. Brown.
After listening to Rigby’s lengthy remarks, Brown ordered the attorneys into his chambers for a meeting, then came back to deliver a terse sentence.
Brown said the “cruelty, viciousness and callousness” that Rigby showed, the premeditation of his actions and the vulnerability of his victims all justified stern response.
Rosenblum told victims’ relatives later that Brown indicated in the closed-chambers meeting that he was deeply offended by Rigby’s claims of innocence.
And Rigby, in a telephone interview from jail, said he understood from his attorney that Brown had been “so dismayed at what I had to say” that he chose virtually the toughest sentence possible.
Saying in his courtroom statement that he had been “persecuted” by malicious parents, students and prosecutors, Rigby acknowledged “bad judgment” in fraternizing in and out of school with some pupils at Harbor Day School. He had been a track coach and physical education teacher at the prestigious private school for about a year at the time of his 1987 arrest.
But he dismissed the molestation incidents as “locker room frivolities” and “fun and games” and blamed “my youthful exuberance to join in” for his legal problems.
Apologized Only to His Wife
He apologized in court only to his wife, Cathy, who has remained with him through his prosecution and attended the sentencing. They have two children, ages 1 and 9.
Rigby also professed concern for the 15 boys and four girls involved in the case, most of them students at the school.
In deciding to plead guilty, he said in his statement, he had been “appalled” by the thought of the children being paraded through court as witnesses “like a herd of cattle, without any regard for their mental being.”
About a dozen parents of victims sat hushed as Rigby delivered his statement to Brown. Some of the parents shook their heads and mumbled to one another occasionally in apparent astonishment.
But minutes later, the family members applauded outside the courtroom after Brown ordered a 19-year sentence that fell just 1 year short of the maximum prison term under Rigby’s plea bargain.
“We’re very satisfied, and the prosecutor just did a wonderful job,” one mother said.
Strictest Sentence Urged
Parents of several victims, in statements to the court at a January pre-sentencing hearing and in letters to the judge, had urged Brown to impose the strictest punishment possible against a man who one father said had robbed his son of “the innocence of childhood.”
Another father added in a letter to Brown: “Once (Rigby) had the children and the parents in his web of deception, he unleashed his sick scheme of games, clubs, secrets and devices with the sole goal and purpose of satisfying his sordid desires.”
The relatives were less willing to discuss their feelings after the sentencing, declining comment to reporters.
John F. Marder, headmaster of the Harbor Day School, said the Rigby affair has been “a long and draining” ordeal that the families would prefer to leave behind. The headmaster added that he is pleased with the judge’s sentence.
Under the plea bargain worked out in January, Rigby agreed to plead guilty to the child-molestation counts, with the understanding that he would face just 15 to 20 years in prison for giving up his right to a trial, attorneys said.
Parole Possible in 9 1/2 Years
Under the 19-year sentence imposed Tuesday, he will be eligible for parole in 9 1/2 years, Rosenblum said.
Prosecutors, basing their conclusions on testimony of the children at the preliminary hearing and evidence seized from Rigby’s home, said the coach molested and on occasion sodomized the children during field trips and visits to their homes, and at other sites away from school.
He also formed an exclusive boys’ club at the school that required sexual rites as part of the initiation. Found at his Irvine home were a vibrator that prosecutors said had been used in the molestation; photos of nude boys, and visual pornographic materials, including an issue of the North American Man/Boy Lovers’ Assn. magazine, a publication that prosecutors said is distributed underground among pedophiles.
Arrested twice previously on child molestation counts but never convicted, Rigby was described in a pre-sentencing analysis prepared by state corrections officials as “an increasing threat to the safety and well-being of minors because of his apparent need for young children.”
‘No Actual Touching’
But his attorney, Deputy Public Defender William Kelly, told Brown before sentencing Tuesday that he does not believe that his client is guilty of the crimes and that “for all but about three or four or perhaps five (cases), no actual touching occurred.”
He asserted that Rigby had been victimized by a “snowball” effect of exaggerated accusations.
Rigby’s family also rallied to his defense in letters to Brown, saying they do not believe him to be a child molester.
Nancy White said her brother sought to overcome a childhood jolted by the divorce of his parents by developing an open but innocent relationship with his students and “making sure young boys are aware of their sexuality.”