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Cardamone case a fight to the finish: But in this story who is the winner?

A December 2005 courtroom sketch Michael Cardamone by VernSadock

A December 2005 courtroom sketch of Michael Cardamone, by Verna Sadock

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Updated: December 26, 2012 6:13AM

Almost seven years ago I wrote my first column about the Michael Cardamone case — after sitting in a DuPage County courtroom listening to closing arguments in the sentencing of the then 25-year-old gym coach who had been convicted of sexually abusing seven students at the family’s Aurora gym.

I had no idea whether he was guilty or not; only that I was troubled by his impassioned statement of innocence to Judge Michael Burke, as well as the unresolved complexities of this case, even from the beginning.

And I predicted we would be writing about DuPage and Cardamone for a long time to come.

Since then, there have been dozens of stories filed by this newspaper and others as this case took twist after unusual twist, especially when his conviction was tossed in 2008 by the Second District Appellate Court because the trial allowed overly prejudicial testimony and did not allow testimony on how young children can be manipulated as trial witnesses.

The battle — of lawyers and of wills — came down to an aggressive state’s attorney’s office and a defendant who refused to admit any guilt. Then suddenly, all those years of legal wrangling came to an end Wednesday morning when Cardamone pleaded guilty to seven counts of aggravated battery and seven counts of unlawful restraint in a public place. The felonies carry a 10-year prison term, but since he gets credit for time served, Cardamone now is a free man. He also pleaded guilty to perjury, which means two years probation.

Because these crimes were “not sexually motivated,” as Judge Blanche Hill Fawell made clear in court Wednesday, he will not have to register as a sex offender. But for the next 10 years, Cardamone’s name will be on the state list for violent offenders against children.

As is often the case with plea bargains, it’s hard to determine the losers and winners — most especially in this ugly story that has destroyed so many lives and cost taxpayers so much money. The victim impact statements read by six young women in court Wednesday were every bit as impassioned as Cardamone’s profession of innocence back in 2005. Most became emotional as they revealed how their former coach’s “disgusting actions” affected them throughout their lives, making it hard to trust or form relationships.

Cardamone’s voice, on the other hand, appeared steady as he read his final words to the court that made it clear he “never sexually abused anyone ever.”

Certainly the victims and their supporters were not happy with this statement that admitted no guilt or showed no remorse. And the coaches who once worked alongside Cardamone were equally upset with their former students who not only painted the head coach as a monster, but placed some of the blame on the gym and its employees.

“Michael was a gymnastics coach,” they said in a written statement that was later handed out to the press. “And we the coaches who coached alongside him know what is true and what is not true. That is why we stand beside him now and forever.”

Although the statement from DuPage State’s Attorney Robert Berlin clearly carried a tone of victory — “After all these years Michael Cardamone has finally admitted that he had inappropriate contact with fourteen young girls when he was their gymnastics coach,” he wrote — there’s really no winner here, even a decade after this story began.

But at least it is over. And one thing both sides seem to agree on: It’s time to move on.

Here’s hoping that’s possible.

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