By John Balch
The speculation is over in the case against the former Lady Rattler coach charged with sexually abusing three students during his time at Murfreesboro High School.
Charles “Si” J. Hornbeck, 38, had maintained his innocence in the case since his arrest in September 2020, but on Monday the former coach pleaded guilty to five counts of first-degree sexual assault and one count of second-degree sexual assault.
He was sentenced to 20 years with eight years suspended in the Arkansas Department of Correction on each charge. Hornbeck’s sentences will run concurrently for a total of 12 years on all charges. He will be required to serve at least three to four years in prison before becoming eligible for parole and he will be required to register as a sex offender upon his release.
Hornbeck was set for a jury trial on Oct. 27.
Hornbeck worked as a coach and teacher on the MHS campus of the South Pike County School District from 2007 to 2014. Hornbeck was most recently employed by the Farmington Public School District in northwest Arkansas but he resigned from that position in August 2020 just weeks before charges were filed on Sept. 9, 2020 in Pike County.
The assault involved three female victims, all less than 21 years old and there was a four-year time span when the assaults happened. The victims at the time of the assault ranged in age from 15 to 18. The victims said the assaults took place in the Rattler Field House, at the coach’s Murfreesboro home, and at his in-law’s home.
The investigation began in 2019 when the Arkansas State Police Crimes Against Children Division Child Abuse Hotline received notification regarding an alleged assault of a 16-year-old former MHS student.
As part of the agreed-upon plea deal, Hornbeck had to face his victims as they stood before him to deliver victim impact statements.
(Editor’s Note: Though the victims spoke in open court and their identities were revealed, The Nashville News-Leader will not publish the names of the victims.)
The victims all stated they felt they needed to keep their secret to themselves and that they hoped stepping forward will keep Hornbeck from abusing more victims. They all said they had lived with guilt and shame for many years.
Tears streaked down Hornbeck’s face and he nodded in agreement when the first impact statement was delivered. The victim said she found “clear direction” from the Bible, particularly Ephesain 5:11: “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” She also said she forgave her former coach for his crimes.
“Si, I can stand here today and say I forgive you. Today is not about trying to get back at you. Today has happened because of your bad choices but today is also happening because of a good choice. A choice to stand up and speak out so another little girl didn’t have to worry about being quiet.”
The victims also said they were unaware they were being groomed and manipulated by Hornbeck. One victim said she first met Hornbeck as a fourth-grader and he soon became a figure of trust. “Growing up with you as a figure in my life for the next eight years, I was not able to see the grooming and manipulation that was happening to me. But I grew into a strong, educated woman, and realized the mental, emotional and sexual abuse you put me through. For years, I dealt with confusion, guilt and shame that was not mine to carry. It was yours.”
The victim continued, “Although today looks like it’s about me, it’s not at all. This moment is for all the other girls that were going to be in your path until you were stopped.”
This victim also quoted the Bible’s Psalm 94:16: Who will rise up for me against the wicked? Who will stand for me against those who practice iniquity?
“I find my peace knowing that’s what I’ve done today,” she concluded.
Hornbeck struggled to keep his head up while facing the victim who delivered the last statement.
The victim stated she had planned to keep her secret but a phone call informing her that Hornbeck had also violated a younger family member changed her mind. “In that moment, I felt a whole new level of disgust, anger and more guilt. I knew then, I couldn’t keeping hiding it any longer.”
She also said Hornbeck’s grooming and manipulation was so deep, she still struggled to come forward because she did not want to hurt his family or children.
“But, I was finally able to open my eyes and realize that I’m not the one doing this to them. You are. You did this to them. You knew what you were doing not just once, twice or even three times, but without a doubt in my mind, many, many more times.” The victims said she is proud to play a part in “ending your long streak of using and abusing young girls.”
“You’re a liar, manipulator, a predator. And my only regret is not coming forward sooner.”
Those words stung Hornbeck and he dropped his head. Unable to speak, Hornbeck had his lawyer, John Pickett of Texarkana, deliver his statement to the victims and their families. Hornbeck faced them with his head up as the lawyer told them Hornbeck was sorry for “letting you down” and that he has accepted responsibility for his crimes.
Within minutes of his guilty pleas, Horneck was escorted from the courtroom and into the booking station where his mugshot was taken again and he was fitted with “jail orange” clothing to await bed space in the state prison system.
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jana Bradford, along with DPA Erin Hunter-Sprick and Special Investigator David Shelton spearheaded the case against Hornbeck and said the victims should be praised for their courage to step forward.
“The prosecuting attorney’s office is so proud of these ladies in this case for having the courage to come forward against their former coach. They are the true heroes. Through their bravery, they prevented him from being able to groom and prey on future young athletes and students that he might have taught or coached,” Bradford saiid.
“The victims and the prosecution team spent countless hours preparing for this case for trial. The plea agreement allowed Hornbeck to be punished and allowed the judicial system to continue to keep an eye on him following his release from incarceration.”