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Former Prep Star Pleads Guilty to Sexual Abuse

September 16, 1996

WHEATON, Ill. (AP) _ Former prep basketball star Ronnie Fields and two other men pleaded guilty Monday to charges they sexually abused a 20-year-old woman in July.

Fields and another man hid in a closet while the woman had sex with a third man, Charles Johnson, said Jeff Kendall, assistant state’s attorney for DuPage County. He said the men took turns with the woman and that she did not realize what was going on, in part because the room was dark.

The incident happened at the Lombard apartment of Ron Eskridge, a volunteer coach at Farragut Academy which Fields attended.

In exchange for their pleas to criminal sexual abuse, a misdemeanor, Fields and Johnson, who are 19, and Leonard Watts, 29, were sentenced to two years’ probation and 15 days of a work program. They also were ordered to undergo counseling and contribute $750 each to a woman’s shelter.

They could have faced one year in prison and been fined up to $1,000 each.

Defense lawyer Richard Kayne said his clients regretted their actions.

``They acknowledged what they did was wrong,″ he said.``Now, they would like to get on with their lives.″

Their victim, who was in court Monday, had agreed to the plea, prosecutors said.

``Hopefully, this sentence will impress upon the defendants, especially Mr. Fields, that he’s no longer thought of as a basketball star but as a sex offender,″ said Thomas Epach, a prosecutor in the state’s attorney’s office.

Fields was a three-time all-state guard at Chicago’s Farragut Academy and was rated as one of the nation’s top prep players. He broke his neck in February in a car accident but has recovered. He was denied admission to DePaul University in July because he did not meet academic requirements.

Eskridge provided the rental car in which Fields crashed in February.

Farragut principal Edward Guerra said Monday that Eskridge would not be allowed to coach at the school.

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