Former Gulf Coast High School band teacher Robert Hamberg won’t get a new trial on sexual battery charges after an appeals court denied his request Wednesday.
The court affirmed Hamberg’s conviction and 30-year prison sentence Wednesday without issuing a written opinion. Among other arguments, Hamberg contended he was unfairly prejudiced at trial when a judge allowed testimony about how Hamberg met his wife.
Hamberg is serving a 30-year prison sentence following his April 2011 conviction on eight charges of lewd and lascivious sexual battery. A then-15-year-old high school freshman in Hamberg’s band said she had a sexual relationship with the teacher.
Three appeals judges heard oral arguments in Hamberg’s case about two weeks ago, at which time the now-55-year-old’s lawyer said a Collier judge erred during the trial. Virtually all of the hearing centered on whether a jury should have heard that Hamberg and his wife Diane met in the mid-1980s when he was a band teacher in suburban Atlanta and she was a student.
No allegations of an underage sexual relationship involving Hamberg’s wife were made at the time, leading Collier Circuit Judge Fred Hardt to initially rule the testimony inadmissible. But Hardt later allowed it when he found Hamberg misled jurors.
While on the stand, Hamberg said he was “naive” about teachers potentially getting in trouble for close relationships with students, which prosecutors said was misleading given Hamberg’s departure from Georgia under a cloud of rumors related to his young wife.
At oral arguments, Hamberg’s lawyer, Michael Ufferman, said the testimony wasn’t legally needed to correct the statement about being naive. Ufferman added his client “had no chance of winning” once jurors learned of Hamberg’s marriage circumstances.
The appeals court ruling likely ends Hamberg’s search for a new trial. He can still appeal to the Florida Supreme Court, where it’s highly unlikely justices will hear his case.
Under Florida law, which requires prisoners to serve a minimum of 85 percent of sentences, Hamberg’s earliest release date is 2037, when he’d be 80 years old.