Jury finds former Hilton Principal Ashton guilty on 46 of 50 counts against him

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Guilty on 46 of 50 counts. That’s the verdict of the jury at the trial of former Hilton Principal Kirk Ashton. He was accused of inappropriately touching two dozen students. The verdict came down just before 5 p.m. on Monday.

The jurors believed in the powerful accounts from all the young victims who took the stand, and described how they were abused by their former principal.

None of the former students were in the courtroom Monday, but their families were there, and sat silently as the 50 counts against Ashton were read. 46 times Ashton heard the word “guilty.”

For nearly three weeks more than 50 witnesses, 24 of them former students, testified against Ashton, accusing him of inappropriately touching them at Northwood Elementary School. Several school staffers also testified about their observations of Ashton and young male students.

Ashton did not take the stand, and his defense attorney did not call any witnesses, but admitted his client was quote “touchy feely” with some students. Ashton was principal of Northwood Elementary School for 17 years. He was arrested in March of last year when allegations of sexual abuse first surfaced.

Assistant District Attorney Sara VanStrydonck said Ashton used his position of power to prey on young male students. 

“I don’t think there was any comfort when Kirk Ashton ruled that school. None, none in 17 years. And, I think the comfort they can take is that it finally, finally has come to a conclusion, and they can finally start to move forward. The boys can move forward knowing that they were heard,” said VanStrydonck.

Defense Attorney Jason Housel added, “It was a severe prejudicial effect towards Mr. Ashton of having faced the volume of complainants that came in here. And, it should have been two separate trials, and that was something that was dealt with pre-trial, not with Judge Renzi, but he had to adopt the rulings of the prior judge, and that’s certainly going to be grounds for an appeal.

In a letter to families, the school district says it is “grateful for today’s verdict, and humbled by the courage and commitment of all who were victimized, including present and former students and their families.” Ashton’s will be sentenced on November 23rd. He’s being held at the Monroe County Jail.

The letter below was sent to Hilton Central School District families:

The Hilton Central School District is grateful for today’s verdict and humbled by the courage and commitment of all who were victimized, including present and former students and their families. We thank the District Attorney’s office, New York State Police, and counselors at Bivona Child Advocacy Center for their sensitive and determined hard work to bring the facts to light in the pursuit of justice.

Our Road to Recovery continues. Our entire professional staff remains focused on measures that will strengthen our policies and practices for observing, reporting and investigating concerns, with the common goal of keeping our children safe. We encourage the community’s continued feedback and involvement in our initiatives. To learn more about the Hilton Central School District’s Road to Recovery Sexual Abuse Prevention Action Plan, visit: Hilton.k12.ny.us/RoadtoRecovery.

The New York State Police, the Greece Police Department, the Monroe County District Attorney’s Office, and Bivona Child Advocacy Center were the ones to investigate the case.

Vanstrydonck of the DA’s Office released this statement:

“Kirk Ashton deliberately used his position of power to prey on the endless supply of little boys at Northwood Elementary School. He is a vile predator who deserves today’s convictions for the harm he has caused these young victims. He hand selected just boys, but after what we saw the last three weeks they were not just boys, they were brave boys who came into court and testified to their principal’s predatory behavior. I am in awe of the victims who had the strength and courage to face their abuser in court and are ultimately responsible for today’s conviction.”

“Kirk Ashton was trusted by parents to keep their children safe, instead, he violated them,” said Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley. “As adults, especially educators, it is our responsibility to protect children and put their interests first. Kirk Ashton targeted those who needed extra support and instead of providing a safe environment, he groomed these children. These victims showed incredible resiliency that we hope will benefit them in their continued journey of recovery.”

Dr. Daniele Lyman-Torres, president of the Bivona Child Advocacy Center, sent this statement:

Bivona Child Advocacy Center would like to thank the children for their courage, their families for their love, and our dedicated Multidisciplinary Team at Bivona for their commitment to children and families impacted by abuse. Their tireless efforts ensured justice was served. Justice is a key step in the healing process for the victims, their families, and the whole community. There is more work to be done to ensure this does not continue to happen.

We all have the responsibility to keep children safe from abuse. There are a range of factors that put children at risk and by addressing these risks we can better prevent and intervene when a child needs our help. The Community Education team at Bivona works everyday in schools to educate children and adults on how to prevent, identify and stop abuse. It is our responsibility to do this, no matter the situation.

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