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Jurors hear opening arguments in trial of Cottage Grove hockey coach accused of having sex with players

STILLWATER, Minn. - A Washington County jury heard opening statements Tuesday in the trial of Eric P. Darwitz, the ex-Cottage Grove, Minn., girls' hockey coach accused of using his position of authority to have sex with a pair of former players when they were 16 years-old.

Both attorneys spoke in detail to jurors about the events of August 11, 2006, when Darwitz, now 32, and another man had sex with two Park High School students who had played for him as recently as that July.

That sex occurred is not at issue, defense attorney Earl Gray and Assistant Washington County Attorney Michael Hutchinson said Tuesday; whether Darwitz, who had officially resigned his coaching position at Park only two days before, was in a "position of authority" over the girls is the central question, they said.

"He wasn't their coach. He wasn't in a position of authority," Gray told jurors. "He certainly isn't guilty of criminal sexual conduct."

Darwitz is charged with two counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct.

During opening arguments, Hutchinson described to the jury of seven men and five women how Darwitz and a friend picked up the alleged victims -- who had been drinking at a friend's party earlier in the night -- in a church parking lot and drove them to the Woodbury residence where Darwitz was staying.

There, Darwitz performed multiple sexual acts with the two former players, eventually ending up in an upstairs shower kissing both girls. He admitted to having sex with only one of the girls; the Washington County Attorney's Office alleges Darwitz had sex with both girls.

It's a case of "a coach having sex with a player," Hutchinson said.

Minnesota law dictates that, in most cases, 16 is the age of consent. It is illegal, however, for anyone in a position of authority -- like a coach or teacher -- who is at least four years older to have sex with someone between 16 and 18 years-old.

During the 2005-2006 school year, the two alleged victims played hockey for Darwitz and attended a camp run by the Cottage Grove native and Park graduate in June and July 2006.

Darwitz formally quit his Park coaching position on August 9, 2006, when he e-mailed a short letter to the school's athletic director.

Gray told jurors, however, that Darwitz had notified the players in July that he was leaving.

"Both (the girls) knew he was no longer their coach," Gray said.

The alleged victims thought it would be cool to party with their ex-coach, Gray said, and he told jurors that one of the girls had brought condoms in her purse.

"They knew what they were doing from the get-go," he said.

The trial is scheduled to continue Wednesday morning in Stillwater when the prosecution plans to call its first witnesses.

A list of possible witnesses provided to prospective jurors Tuesday included a pair of police investigators, the owner of the Woodbury house where the sex occurred, Darwitz' friend who police say also had sex with one of the girls, a boyfriend of one of the alleged victims and the two former players themselves.