Ex-Franklin track coach pleads guilty to child seduction

A former Franklin schools employee has pled guilty to child seduction after a former student came forward with information about an inappropriate relationship from eight years ago.

James “Eli” Betts, 43, of Franklin, pled guilty to one count of child seduction by a child care worker as a Level 5 felony. He was originally charged with four counts of child seduction by a child care worker.

The case was handled by a Morgan County prosecutor due to a conflict of interest in the Johnson County Prosecutor’s Office.

The plea agreement indicates the sentence was pre-negotiated by Betts’ attorney and the special prosecutor. The sentence is for six years, with three years to be executed in Indiana Department of Corrections or alternative placement and three years on probation.

A former Franklin Community High School student and track team member told school officials in March 2021 that Betts had seduced, fondled and forced her to have sex with him twice in 2014, when she was still a minor, according to a probable cause affidavit filed in Johnson County Superior Court 2. The school fired Betts on April 5, 2021 according to a news release.

Betts was an assistant coach for the Franklin Community High School girls and boys track teams from 2013-15. Betts resigned in January of 2015, but had returned to the track coaching staff in February 2021, according to the news release.

The incidents occurred in May and July of 2014, when the victim was 16. The first incident occurred in May of 2014 in Betts’s car, and the second occurred in July of 2014 at his house, according to court documents.

Betts continued to communicate with the victim after he resigned the coaching position and after she graduated. The communication included inappropriate messages and sending nude photos via Snapchat, the victim told police.

The victim reported the abuse to Franklin Community Schools on March 25, 2021 and school officials say they immediately reported it to the Department of Child Services as required by state law. She said she came forward now because Betts had started coaching at the school again, and she didn’t want what happened to her to happen to anyone else, according to court documents.

When rehiring Betts, Franklin Community Schools followed the normal hiring process and protocols, including an expanded criminal history background check and child protection index search, as required by state law. The search did not turn up any conduct that would disqualify him from being a coach, the news release said.

Charges were filed on April 20, 2021 and a warrant was served two days later. Betts bonded out the same day.

Betts initially denied the allegations to police, but eventually told them he knew he had crossed the line and detailed ways he had done so. Betts denies that he forced the victim to have intercourse, court documents show.

Betts said he and the victim planned on getting together after she graduated from high school. The victim said Betts had started a “countdown” to 18.

A formal sentencing hearing is set for Betts on June 9.