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Benner v. State

Court of Appeals of Indiana

July 16, 2019

Mark Benner, Appellant-Defendant,
State of Indiana, Appellee-Plaintiff.

          Appeal from the St. Joseph Superior Court The Honorable Jeffrey L. Sanford, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 71D03-1511-FC-9.

          Attorney for Appellant Marielena Duerring South Bend, Indiana

          Attorneys for Appellee Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General of Indiana J.T. Whitehead Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana

          Darden, Senior Judge.

         Statement of the Case

         [¶1] Appellant Mark Benner appeals his convictions of two counts of child seduction.[1] We affirm.


         [¶2] Benner presents one issue for our review, which we restate as: whether there was sufficient evidence to sustain his convictions.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶3] P.A. was born in January 1996. She knew Benner and his family through her sports activities-Benner's wife was her volleyball coach in middle school, Benner's daughter was a basketball teammate and friend, and Benner coached P.A.'s summer league basketball team the summer after her eighth grade year. During the relevant time period, Benner had been coaching for more than two decades.

         [¶4] From a very young age, P.A. was interested in playing basketball and was identified in the community as a very good basketball player. Even before she was old enough to be on the school team, she attempted to join their practices, and, as soon as she was old enough, she joined the fourth grade team at her school. She was often described as being "very determined," "very dedicated," "very talented," a hard worker, focused, and a "really good basketball player" with a heightened ambition and drive greater than most of her peers. Tr. Vol. 2, pp. 89, 104, 75. P.A. looked up to her coaches and explicitly followed their guidance and instructions and was highly impressed with Benner's coaching ability.

         [¶5] Beginning with the 2009-2010 school year, Benner served as an assistant varsity coach for the girls basketball team at Mishawaka High School. In 2010-2011, when P.A. was a freshman, she played for both the junior varsity and the varsity basketball teams and was considered an important player at the varsity level. By that time, it was common knowledge that P.A. was a very passionate and dedicated basketball player who was always seeking to improve her skills and excel in her sport. All of her coaches viewed her as an integral component of the Mishawaka High School girls basketball program, and Benner knew that her ultimate goal was to obtain a scholarship to play college basketball.

         [¶6] With the aim of obtaining a college basketball scholarship, P.A. did extra one- on-one workouts with Benner several times a week during the summer of 2011 to improve her basketball skills. Commencing her sophomore year, P.A. made the varsity team and remained at that level throughout her high school career. Benner served as the assistant varsity basketball coach until he submitted his resignation in 2013 at the end of P.A.'s junior year. Knowing P.A.'s intense motivation to excel, Benner worked more with her and provided her with more individual attention than he did with any other player. Because of this concentrated one-on-one time together, Benner developed a closer relationship with P.A. than with other players on the team.

         [¶7] In January 2013, concern arose at the school regarding some text messages that had been exchanged between Benner and P.A. It was later determined that the texts were basketball related, and no action was taken by the school against Benner. However, in March of 2013, at the end of the 2012-2013 basketball season, Benner resigned as assistant varsity coach. After submitting his letter of resignation, Benner drove to P.A.'s home, picked her up, and showed her his resignation letter. After P.A. read the letter, she became saddened and cried, and it was at that point that Benner kissed her. At that time, P.A. was seventeen and a junior in high school, and Benner was forty-three. Benner told P.A. that his resignation would not affect them working together to get her into college and that he would continue working with her on an individual basis.

         [¶8] In August 2013, before P.A.'s senior year of high school, a sexual relationship began between Benner and P.A. Their sexual activities included fondling, oral sex, and sexual intercourse and continued through P.A.'s senior year. P.A. graduated from Mishawaka High School in 2014. She then attended Indiana University South Bend on a basketball scholarship. Benner's sexual relationship with P.A. continued until the spring of her freshman year of college. Their relationship ended when, in March 2015, Benner accidentally sent ...

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