As James E. Jensen, the former Miles City athletic trainer accused of sexually abusing hundreds of children, tried to plead guilty to a federal charge Tuesday, a judge poked holes in the feds' case.
Jensen is charged with coercion and enticement of a minor. He filed documents Thursday showing he intends to plead guilty, and faces at least 15 years in prison. Court documents also show Jensen admitted to the "the basic tenets" of a systematic sexual abuse program that is the focus of a separate civil lawsuit.
Tuesday's hearing at the James F. Battin Federal Courthouse in Billings was set to determine whether the court would accept Jensen's guilty plea. But U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy Cavan postponed the hearing until Feb. 19.
The federal indictment says Jensen used materials from the internet to persuade students that his program involving various sexual activities would improve their athletic performance.
However, Cavan questioned whether federal investigators established that Jensen's use of the internet related directly to coercion or enticement.
"I don't see, from the government's 'offer of proof' here today, that the second element has been established," he said.
Both prosecutors and Jensen's defense attorney said they believed Jensen's use of the internet to research elements of "the Program," the systematic abuse method that Jensen operated for several decades, met the burden of proof for the charges.
"We certainly wouldn't be here if we didn't think the government could satisfy that," said Jensen's defense attorney, Steven Babcock.
The plea submitted for acceptance by Jensen is still a significant document in his admissions about "The Program."
A civil lawsuit by more than 30 former Custer County District High School students claims Jensen groomed and sexually abused them while he was the school's trainer from the 1970s through the 1990s.
Jensen admitted to some of the abuse during a September conversation with The Gazette after the suit was filed.
State investigators and Custer County officials said all of the potential abuse of minors happened outside the state's statute of limitations, so they were unable to charge Jensen with those crimes.
In the plea documents, Jensen "admitted as to the basic tenets of 'The Program ... and had applied it to hundreds of minor children."
Jensen spoke repeatedly at Tuesday's hearing, mostly indicating that he understood conditions of his plea. When asked if he understood sentencing requirements, he replied:
"Yes, your Honor. It's 15 years."
Jensen also faces 10 child porn charges after investigators allegedly found images of boys as young as 9, including some engaged in sex acts, in his apartment.