He was a master manipulator who gained the trust of the teenage girls in his Wellington School theatrical productions and secretly videotaped them naked as they changed clothes in the school locker room.
A half-dozen victims from what one called Lawrence Dibble’s “cultlike” theater program stepped forward Thursday in a Franklin County courtroom to talk about the damage that remains from his actions — crimes that he nearly got away with because of a technicality.
One spoke of spending four months in a trauma-treatment center. Another said she suffers crippling panic attacks. Most spoke of losing their ability to trust others, or of being unable to think of their school days without anger and sadness.
Nearly all asked Common Pleas Judge Tim Horton to sentence Dibble to the maximum penalty of 17 years in prison.
“If he doesn’t go to prison, there’s no doubt in my mind there will be other victims,” Lauren Neidhardt said. “It’s all he knows.”
Although Dibble was eligible for probation, which his attorney requested, Horton sentenced him to four years in prison. Dibble, 44, also must register as a sex offender annually for 15 years.
“He held a position of trust, and this was not an isolated incident,” the judge said.
Prosecutor Ron O’Brien said prison is appropriate for Dibble, who was described in a presentence investigation as “smug and arrogant.”
Dibble didn’t look at the women as they spoke and didn’t react to their statements or to the sentence. He told the judge that his attorney, Christopher Brown, advised him not to make a statement because he plans to appeal the conviction.
His no-contest plea in June to 17 felony counts of voyeurism, three misdemeanor counts of voyeurism and one misdemeanor count of sexual imposition allows him to appeal. Each felony count represents an underage victim; the misdemeanors represent victims who had turned 18 at the time of the offense.
The women who attended the hearing — five of whom agreed to be identified — declined to comment on the sentence afterward. They spoke at length in court, though, their emotional statements consuming nearly an hour of the 90-minute hearing.
They talked about how Dibble was both a father figure and a tyrant who demanded devotion, instilled fear and persuaded them to change into tight, revealing leotards with no underwear underneath.
Corinne Steger said Dibble began “grooming” her at age 12 and waited until she had turned 18 and was one month from graduation before molesting her. She was in college when she told police that he had reached under her skirt and groped her as she rehearsed lines for a play at the private school in Upper Arlington in April 2009.
Her story resulted in the sexual-imposition charge and an investigation that uncovered Dibble’s videos of her and 19 other female students who were taped by a hidden camera from 2003 to 2006.
Alexandra Vickery, a 2006 graduate of the school, said she is forever shaken by the sight of the naked pictures that Dibble took of her “when I was just a child.”
If she has children, Vickery said, she “will question every moment that they spend with a teacher. I will wonder if their school is a safe place. ... The terror will never go away.”
Payton Cohn Thompson said she takes medication for anxiety and depression and continues to have nightmares about Dibble.
“It’s not fair that the night before my wedding, I had a nightmare about him,” she said of Dibble. “It’s not fair that when I woke up on the day of my wedding, he was the first person I thought of.”
The convictions and sentence represent a victory for investigators and the Franklin County prosecutor’s office. Their case appeared to collapse in July 2010 when Horton threw out the video evidence against Dibble.
The judge ruled that an Upper Arlington detective had lied to obtain a search warrant for Dibble’s Dublin home. Horton’s ruling was upheld by the Franklin County Court of Appeals but overturned in October by the Ohio Supreme Court.
The school fired Dibble after his arrest, and he eventually moved to New Hampshire. The judge rejected Dibble’s request to remain free on bond while his appeal is heard.
By John Futty - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)
©2013 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)
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