COLLIER COUNTY — Robert Hamberg was in his 50’s, married and had “man boobs” beneath the Tommy Bahama shirts he liked to wear.
Despite it all, a former student testified Tuesday that she once loved the former Gulf Coast High School band director, sought to protect him and hesitated to tell adults about a sexual relationship between the two when she was only 15.
“He told me when I turned 18 and when he’s single we could run off and be together,” the teenager, now 17, told jurors.
Instead, Hamberg, 53, was arrested in May 2009 and charged with eight counts of lewd and lascivious battery for the alleged relationship. Prosecutors say it went on for five months in 2008 and 2009 and involved sexual acts in the school, Hamberg’s car and his home.
The accuser was the first state witness in a trial that began with jury selection on Monday and proceeded to opening statements and testimony on Tuesday. Due to the nature of the case, the Daily News is not naming the girl.
Prosecutors portrayed Hamberg as a man who exploited his age and position.
“Basically you have an infatuated girl and a man who was her superior -- her protector -- taking advantage of her, using her,” Assistant State Attorney Steve Maresca said in his opening statement.
Maresca told jurors that as the popular band director at a school prided for its band, fellow teachers rarely questioned Hamberg.
“This man had such status at Gulf Coast High School that he could come and go as he pleased,” Maresca said. “He could get her out of class so she could fulfill his needs.”
Dressed in a dark suit and seated next to defense attorney Jerry Berry, Hamberg attentively watched the proceedings. His hands visibly trembled through much of the day.
During two and a half hours of testimony, the teenager described a relationship that began in December 2008 with hugs, turned into kissing and evolved into something more serious.
She struggled to remember exact dates, save two, one being the first kiss the pair shared, on Jan. 28.
By early 2009, she and Hamberg were regularly absconding to a locked women’s dressing room and “making out,” according to the accuser. She recalled leaving classes early under the guise of practicing music with the band director.
Hamberg asked her for oral sex in late February, calling it a “big step,” the teenager testified.
“How did you feel about him?” Assistant State Attorney Mara Marzano asked on Tuesday.
“I felt like I was in love with him,” she replied.
Hamberg asked her to come to his house one day, she said, and the pair left together in his Jeep after school, the teenager ducking beneath the window as they left the school lot. Over the following weeks, she visited the home four times while his wife was away, she said.
She recalled the layout, the bedroom sheets and the photographs on the wall. She remembered seeing a bottle of Tommy Bahama perfume in the bathroom. She described Hamberg’s body, including the mole on his stomach and his “man boobs.”
Gulf Coast High orchestra teacher Tara Buonamici told jurors she often saw Hamberg and the student alone in the women’s dressing room, where Buonamici used the bathroom. Aware the teenager had problems at home, she suspected nothing, she said.
But the teacher went to the principal after she caught the two in a strange position in the room one day. The lights were out when she entered and saw the student jump back from Hamberg, she testified.
“I was so disturbed by it that I actually couldn’t go to the bathroom,” the teacher said. “I froze up.”
Two other teachers at the school mentioned a note confiscated from the student that suggested her involvement with a teacher. The two teachers, Angela Speach and Renee White, testified that Hamberg abruptly approached them and mentioned the note in jest to them one day.
“He said to Ms. White as I was standing next to her, ‘I guess I better stop making out with your students,’” Speach recalled.
Neither knew Hamberg well, and both were put off by the comment, they testified.
Berry, the defense attorney, called the case one of “he said, she said” in his opening statement. He portrayed the teenager as an attention-seeker suffering from a home-life in disarray, and he said Hamberg opened himself up to criticism by working closely with his students.
Looking back, he should have been much more cautious about what he did,” the attorney told jurors.
Berry questioned the accuser’s initial denials when approached by school administrators about the relationship, and he questioned her failure to remember specific dates of sexual encounters.
Hamberg will testify in the case, Berry said, as will the band director’s wife, Diane Hamberg. Three men, three women and two alternate jurors are hearing the case.
Each count of lewd and lascivious battery carries a maximum 15-year sentence and $10,000 fine upon conviction.