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The Virginian - Pilot (Norfolk, VA.)
VIRGINIA BEACH - A parent of an Aragona Pembroke Little League player was scanning real estate listings when she decided to see if any registered sex offenders lived near the places she was interested in.
As she scrolled through the registry, she recognized a man on the list. He was one of the coaches for her son's baseball team.
The parent immediately sent an anonymous email to the league's president to alert him. She also contacted state police, who monitor and enforce the state's sex offender registry.
To the league's presidents and its board of directors, the information didn't come as a shock.
It also wasn't illegal for William Ghormley to be coaching. That's because his offenses occurred 21 years ago - before state laws restricted a sex offender's proximity to children - and the Little League complex where the practices and games are played is privately owned.
"I'm shocked," the person who contacted league officials wrote in an email to a Pilot reporter, adding that parents often drop their children off at practices and leave. "I don't understand how any parent would be OK having their child around a person who is an active member of the registry."
The parent did not want to be identified because she feared her persistence would lead to negative repercussions for her son.
Ghormley, who began coaching for Aragona Pembroke Little League about two years ago, was "very forthcoming" about his past when he applied for the position, league president Carl Bush wrote in an email sent to the parent several weeks ago. The league is one of the oldest in the city, offering T-ball, softball and baseball to children from 4 to 16.
"In NO way did he slip through the cracks," Bush wrote in the email. The board "felt he was absolutely no threat to the children at APLL based on the FACT that the offenses did NOT involve a minor, were well in the past, and there were no additional offenses in the past 15 years plus."
It's true that Ghormley's convictions were long ago - in 1997 - and that he's had no offenses since then.
But Bush's assertion that the crimes didn't involve minors was incorrect.
A review by The Virginian-Pilot of Ghormley's file in Virginia Beach Circuit Court revealed the age of the victims: They were two adolescent girls.
"That's news to me," Bush said when a Pilot reporter told him the information last month.
"That changes everything."
In March of 1997, Ghormley was 22 when he was arrested and charged with two counts of aggravated sexual battery, four counts of indecent liberties, and two counts of crimes against nature, according to his court file.
Some of the charges were for an offense that occurred a month before he was arrested and involved a 12-year-old girl. The others related to events that happened a few years earlier with a different girl.
The more recent case involved a single incident in February 1997, when Ghormley drove a 12-year-old girl and her two brothers to a church service. The girl told police he touched her inappropriately and kissed her when he dropped her off, and then again when he took her home, a police report in the court file stated.
The charges in the older case related to several incidents of inappropriate touching and other sexual contact that happened when the victim was 13 and Ghormley was between 17 and 18, according to dates in the court file.
He pleaded guilty to all the charges three months later and was sentenced to 1½ years in jail. He also was required to register as a sex offender.
"It was a wrong, horrible mistake. I'm not going to minimize it," Ghormley, now 44, said recently of his crimes. "I was a much different person then. Immature, selfish, rebellious, and with low self-esteem. But I've worked hard since then to build myself up and live a respectable life."
Ghormley said he's been married for 14 years and is the father of one adult son and two younger sons. He said he applied for the coaching position after another coach asked if he was interested in helping with his son's team. He said he told the coach about his criminal past, including the fact that the victims were minors. The other coach said he didn't think it would matter, especially since the incidents happened so long ago. Ghormley said he also offered to talk to the board about it but was told it wasn't necessary.
"I followed all their procedures," he said. "I went through a background check. I've done everything that I've been required to do."
Little League International rules prohibit people convicted of crimes against minors from serving as a volunteer, according to its website. If the crimes involve adult victims, it is up to the league's board of directors to determine if the person should be allowed to volunteer, said Kevin Fountain, a spokesman for Little League International. Based on the information Aragona Pembroke Little League had at the time, it was in compliance with the rules, Fountain said.
Bush said he removed Ghormley from the team, for 7- to 10-year-old boys, as well as a travel one that he coached, on Oct. 19, immediately after learning the victims were minors.
Three days later, the board of directors voted unanimously to ban Ghormley from league facilities, practices and games, he said. They also sent a letter to parents of all children who have played with the league since he began coaching.
The letter, which was provided to The Pilot, does not name Ghormley. Nor does it say anything about him being a registered sex offender.
At an emergency meeting held last week with parents of some of the children Ghormley coached, a league representative told them the organization had been misled by the coach, according to a parent who was there. Ghormley says that isn't true.
"I never told anyone that it didn't involve minors," he told a Pilot reporter outside his home recently. "I think they (the president and the board) just assumed that."
Virginia's first sexual offender registration statute went into effect in July 1994 - three years before Ghormley pleaded guilty - and required people convicted of certain crimes to register.
It wasn't until July 2000 that it became illegal for those convicted after that date to loiter within 100 feet of a school. In July 2006, child day programs were added. Two years after that, playgrounds, gymnasiums, athletic fields and facilities owned and operated by a locality were included.
Each time new provisions were added, however, they only affected those convicted after they became law, said state police spokeswoman Corinne Geller.
Also, since the Aragona Pembroke Little League's property is owned by the organization, the laws regarding a sex offender's proximity to children don't apply to it, she said.
"The law is for public places," Geller said. "So even if he was convicted at a later date, he still would legally be permitted to be involved because it's a private organization."
Bush, the local league president, said none of the information he had on Ghormley indicated his victims were underage. He wouldn't say where he obtained his information.
Ghormley's listing on the sex offender registry also doesn't say that the victims were minors. Under the heading "Victim Age" it states, "Unknown." Only the two aggravated sexual battery charges he pleaded guilty to are included. Two of the other charges he was convicted of - the crimes against nature counts - are not required on the registry, but the indecent liberties charges are supposed to be mentioned.
Geller said she didn't know why the registry lacked information about the victims being minors or why the indecent liberties charges were left off.
Ghormley said he understands the league's decision to ban him but is frustrated by the perception that he misled anyone, or tried to hide the information from league officials. He's still supportive of the league and wants his sons to stay involved - even if he can't be.
"I have no problem admitting what I did," he said. "I'll do whatever I'm required to do as a result. But I feel like all the work, all the time, all the effort I've put in the last 20 years means nothing now."
Jane Harper, 757-222-5097, email@example.com
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