Returning again and again to words such as “evil,” “malicious intent,” “greed,” “extortion” and “accountability,” Josh Pastner spoke with passion and indignation Monday in a courtroom in Oro Valley, Ariz.
Pastner was appearing at a sentencing hearing for former friend Ron Bell, who in July was found guilty of orchestrating false allegations of sexual assault against the Georgia Tech coach. Pastner urged magistrate court judge Bobbi Berry to hand down the most severe sentence allowable, a 12-month imprisonment.
“I’m here to tell you that, Judge, there has to be accountability for what they did,” Pastner said in his impact statement. “It was serious what they did to me, to my family. They did it with a clear conscience with a malicious intent to harm, to ruin me, to do terrible damage to my career, to my life.”
It was the first time that Pastner had publicly spoken at length about being accused of repeatedly sexually assaulting Bell’s girlfriend Jennifer Pendley. Listening to an online audio stream of his statement, the emotion and intensity in Pastner’s voice were clear.
“This was strictly about the intent to ruin,” Pastner said. “It was pure evil, and there has to be severe consequence on this.”
The comments were particularly striking given Pastner’s invariably bright and hopeful outlook. He often mentions the importance of having an “attitude of gratitude.” One of his pet sayings, for instance, is that he doesn’t see the glass as half full or empty, but as overflowing.
Among those sharing the courtroom with Pastner was Bell, who was found guilty on six misdemeanor counts for solicitation of influencing a witness (two counts), attempted tampering with a witness (two counts), false information and facilitation of fraud, schemes and practice. The charges stemmed from actions Bell took in working to bring allegations of sexual assault against Pastner, accusations made in a February 2018 lawsuit.
“The evidence showed that Ronald Bell engaged in a pattern of reactive and retaliatory behavior against Josh Pastner over several months for perceived slights to their friendship/relationship,” Berry wrote in her verdict, dated July 6. “The prosecution proved that Ronald was motivated to bring about Josh Pastner’s downfall.”
In his 11 ½-minute statement, Pastner spoke about how at a game at Louisville after Bell and Pendley filed their lawsuit that same day, Cardinals fans yelled “Rapist!” at him on the Tech bench. He told Berry how he had had to explain the allegations to his three pre-teen daughters.
“This isn’t just something of a trespassing (allegation),” Pastner said. “The worst crime somebody can commit to somebody – this is what they accused me of. And he knew what he was doing, through greed, through extortion. It was with total malicious intent.”
In a sentencing memorandum filed last week, Bell’s attorney Jeremy Zarzycki requested that Bell be sentenced to the minimum term of unsupervised probation. One contention was that “severe psychiatric post-traumatic issues directly attributed to” a diagnosis of CTE that “reduced his ability to appreciate the pain and see all the facts in this case.”
Pastner was unmoved.
“They know this was wrong,” he said. “They know what they did. They know 1,000%.”
The memorandum also asserted Bell’s character could be observed in “the positive influence Ron once had on Joshua Pastner and (wife) Kerri Pastner.” That was before a fallout in their relationship in the fall of 2017 led Bell to allege multiple NCAA violations against Pastner in an attempt to get him fired. After the effort was unsuccessful, Bell made the accusations of sexual assault. The NCAA did not find Pastner guilty of wrongdoing, and the assault claims were unfounded.
Said Pastner, “It was the worst decision of my life to answer the email (from) him” when Bell connected with Pastner when he was the coach at Memphis. Bell reached out to Pastner, saying he was diagnosed with cancer. Pastner was moved to invite Bell to Las Vegas to attend a Memphis game.
Zarzycki, Bell’s attorney, also noted that Bell was convicted of misdemeanors and not felonies, asserting that it spoke to the relative severity of Bell’s actions.
“Judge, I know you have a tough job, but if there’s not severe consequences for what they did, then it’s not going to deter him or anybody else from doing this further,” Pastner said. “You cannot weaponize a sexual assault (allegation) on somebody to try to get money from them and to ruin them. You can’t do that.”
While Berry was prepared to sentence Bell on Monday, the judge ordered a continuation of the sentencing hearing as prosecutor Troy Simon questioned Bell’s CTE diagnosis but had not submitted supporting medical documents to the court. Berry offered Simon the opportunity to submit medical records, which Simon said had been sealed in a civil case between Pastner and Bell/Pendley.
“If there’s a reason to believe that those things set forth in the sentencing memorandum are not fact, it would have an impact on the sentence,” Berry said.
Berry scheduled for the trial to continue with a telephone conference Sept. 7, stressing her objective of a clear and fair sentencing with all relevant information available.
“This is a very unusual situation in that we have six misdemeanor convictions, but we’re dealing with a significant case with significant damage economically and otherwise to Mr. Pastner,” she said.
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Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com