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Maine West coach Michael Divincenzo trial put on hold until January

Thursday, December 19, 2013

There is an unusual development Thursday in the trial of a high school soccer coach linked to a hazing scandal, as the judge has stopped the trial and the proceedings will not resume until January.

Prosecutors rested their case, then attorneys for Coach Divincenzo asked Judge Jeffrey Warnick to rule in their favor before even putting on their case.

The judge says he believes the case may be setting a precedent about what teachers and others are required to report to the Department of Child and Family Services, so he wants more time to study the issue.

Michael Divincenzo left court Thursday knowing he'll have to wait until after the holidays to learn his fate.

He has watched as a parade of his former players have testified, most praising his leadership of the Maine West soccer team, calling him a mentor and friend.

But prosecutors have said he fostered a culture of abuse whereby older players welcomed younger players to the varsity by tackling them, pulling their shorts down and poking them in private areas.

"He had the power to stop it, and he didn't stop it," prosecutor Margaret Ogerak said. "He gave these kids the green light."

Devincenzo is charged with battery, hazing and failure to report abuse. The judge says he wants to further study the law regarding mandatory reporting of abuse to the DCFS.

"Failure to report usually applies to teacher," defense attorney Tom Breen said. "When it is apparent a child has been abused by someone in the family."

One former player on the stand Thursday told the court he was tackled, lightly punched and given a "wedgie," but he also said it was nothing more than playful rough-housing.

The defense has have yet to present their case and asked the judge to rule in their favor because they say the state has failed to prove the man they call "Coach Devo" is guilty of anything.

Every single witness has said the alleged victim of the offense was laughing," defense attorney Todd Pugh told the judge. "Boys are gross. We gave each other wedgies, passed gas and made jokes about it."

Defense attorneys argue this is not something that should have been reported to the DCFS in the first place.

"This may be of interest to other teachers and coaches in the future," Pugh said.

The charges against the coach are all misdemeanors and if found guilty he would likely face no jail time. But a number of alleged victims have also filed a civil lawsuit against the coach and the school. The two sides will be back in court early next month. At that time the judge will either issue a verdict or continue the trial.

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