NAPLES — Robert Hamberg’s story was written nearly two years ago, when sheriff’s deputies entered his home with a pair of search warrants — one for his house, and one for his body.
They came on the accusations of a 15-year-old female student in Hamberg’s band at Gulf Coast High School. She described multiple sexual encounters with her teacher, and she described his body for detectives, including a mole that deputies later located and photographed.
Monday, as Hamberg goes to trial on eight felony counts of lewd or lascivious battery of a minor, jurors and the public will hear his own version of events, a first since his May 2009 arrest and resignation from the Collier County high school.
His attorney has called the case a matter of “he said, she said.” Much of the trial is expected to focus on detailed accounts the accuser gave detectives. She will take the stand in the trial; Hamberg will decide whether he wants to testify.
If convicted of any of the eight counts, he faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
In investigative reports, his accuser described a relationship that began in December 2008 with hugging and kissing and developed into a series of sexual encounters at the school, in Hamberg’s car and at his home.
The teenager told detectives that Hamberg complained of his marital woes, claimed he and his wife hadn’t had sex in months and warned he would be arrested if the relationship were discovered. He said he would commit suicide before going to jail, she said.
“They had a discussion about their ages and how they couldn’t be together, they both cried,” one report reads.
The testimony of the accuser is apt to be crucial in the case. Now several years older, the young woman will have to confront a man for whom she admitted “strong feelings,” according to reports. Eileen Wesley of Project HELP, a victim advocacy center in Naples, said a courtroom is a scary place for adults to testify, more so for a teenager.
“Unfortunately, the case will revolve around her, and she should have as much support as she needs to get around this,” she said in a January interview.
Other witnesses may include a friend of the student, and fellow band member, who went to the school principal after being told of the relationship.
A music teacher, Tara Buonamici, 38, told detectives she spoke to administrators after catching Hamberg and the alleged victim alone in a school dressing room, in a compromising position and with the lights off.
The lack of specific dates for each alleged encounter, and the number of encounters, have been sticking points in the case. A trial scheduled for January was postponed after Hamberg attorney Jerry Berry protested a late change prosecutors made to the charging document, in which they added language broadening several of the allegations. Recently, Collier Circuit Judge Fred Hardt agreed with Berry that a more specific charging document, or a statement of particulars, needed to be filed in the case.
Each of the eight counts against Hamberg describes one alleged encounter or a series of related encounters that occurred between Feb. 14 and May 15, 2009. Prosecutors have said the accuser cannot provide specific dates to the alleged incidents.
Hardt also limited the scope of witness questioning for attorneys on both sides. References to the accuser’s reputation, her sexual history or rumors of a similar relationship at a different school will all be prohibited.
In a win for the defense, Hardt agreed to bar mention of Hamberg’s previous tenure at a Georgia high school. He left his position as band director at Norcross High School, near Atlanta, in 1988, after questions were raised about his relationship with a 17-year-old drum major, Diane Hancock.
The pair met while Hancock was a ninth-grade band member, and they entered a relationship in the summer of 1988, after Hancock graduated but while she was a minor. Hamberg was 31 at the time.
The relationship was never investigated, and no charges were brought against Hamberg. He divorced his wife at the time and married Hancock, despite the protests of her parents. Diane Hamberg, née Hancock, continues to support her husband at court appearances in his current case.
Hamberg cultivated the Norcross High band much as he did the one at Gulf Coast. Both were large, well-traveled and well-regarded. Hamberg was with Gulf Coast for nine years before his resignation, and he oversaw its growth to 350 students, the largest band in the county.
Following Hamberg’s resignation, the school hired a new band director, Steve DeLadurantey, the former director at Golden Gate High and a Golden Apple winner. In the past year, the band has performed at Disney World and in Los Angeles.
Assistant state attorneys Debbie Cunningham will lead the prosecution, with aid from Assistant State Attorney Mara Marzano.