Deliberations started Thursday for former Hilton principal accused of sexually abusing students

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Deliberations started on Thursday for Kirk Ashton, the former Hilton elementary school principal accused of sexually abusing 26 students over a nearly two-decade period. If convicted, Ashton could face up to 20 years in prison.

The defense rested its case on Thursday and opted to move on to deliberations. Ashton decided he was not going to testify on his behalf and his lawyers did not call any other witnesses.

In closing arguments on Thursday, Ashton’s attorney Jason Housel admitted his client was a bit “touchy-feely” when interacting with some of his male students but said that those interactions took place out in the open at Northwood Elementary.

Housel even questioned the credibility of some of the victim’s testimony arguing that they may have been coached by the prosecution. Housel said some of the boys had a hard time answering “unscripted” questions about when they met with the prosecution team but were able to remember alleged sexual abuse from a few years ago.

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Housel also maintained that when the boys were in Ashton’s office The door was always open in full view of other staff members. Housel reminded the jury that not one school employee ever reported Ashton during his 17-year tenure at the school. Prosecutors have long argued that Ashton demonstrated a pattern of predatory behavior.

Assistant District Attorney Sara van Strydonk told the jury “all the boys” described a pattern of “grooming” by Ashton from the way he rubbed the back of their necks and tousled their hair to touching their private parts under their clothes. She asked the jury to come back with a guilty verdict on all counts against Ashton.

Judge Alex Renzi dropped three of the charges against Ashton so he now faces 50 counts. Out of the 26 victims, the testimonies from 24 will be considered by the jury.

On Wednesday afternoon, the prosecution rested its case. The first witness to take the stand on Wednesday was the school’s former assistant principal who says she worked with Ashton for six years.

Just like so many witnesses before her, the former assistant principal told the jury that she also observed Principal Ashton only interact with young male students. She said her office was right next door to Ashton’s, and there were students in there daily.

While many of them were sent down for behavioral problems, she says others were there to get some extra reading help. The assistant principal says she did see several students sitting on Ashton’s lap and said that to her it “skewed boundaries” between staff and student.

A short video was played in the courtroom showing a male student sitting on the lap of a male adult, who prosecutors believe is Ashton. The adult is seen touching the boy’s hair, then rubbing the back of his neck, also touching the boy’s back and tugging on the boy’s earlobe a few times. The video, presumably shot by a cell phone, lasted less than 30 seconds.