Bowling guilty plea expected today

By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal

GREENVILLE – Coaching icon Dwight Bowling of Smithville faces life in prison after his expected admission that he took at least one minor across state lines for sex.
Bowling’s guilty-plea hearing was revealed Tuesday and scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. today before U.S. District Judge W. Allen Pepper in Greenville.
His plea avoids a May 9 trial, which was likely to feature sensational, graphic testimony from several young men who claimed they were victims of Bowling’s sexual advances across the years.
Bowling, 53, was indicted by a federal grand jury in mid-September on five counts – four that he transported minors across state lines for sex and the other that he tried to convince one of them, now an adult, not to tell investigators about their relationship.
He has been held in the Lafayette County Detention Center nearly all the time since then.
If convicted on all federal counts, Bowling faces from 60 years to life in prison.
Bowling also faces similar charges brought by grand juries in Monroe and Itawamba counties.
District Attorney John Young said Bowling’s plea today will have no immediate impact on his prosecution there.
“We’ve had some serious negotiations with his attorney” about his state cases, Young said, but “we’ll deal with it and see what happens.”
Whether any civil lawsuits arise from Bowling’s admissions is another story.
Last week, prosecutors gave notice that they planned to present graphic testimony against Bowling from at least four minors and others who allegedly would claim Bowling made sexual advances on them while he was their football coach and teacher.
Henry Applewhite of Aberdeen, attorney for the Monroe County School Board, declined to say Tuesday if the school district would face any new legal issues from Bowling’s actions while he was its top athletics leader across 28 years.
Bowling was once one of the region’s top high school football coaches. He posted a career record of 188-64 and two state championships with Smithville. Bowling also has authored a book, “Football Bowling Style.”
Bowling retired from Smithville six years ago and took a similar job at Sulligent, Ala., High School.
To the news that Bowling was scheduled to plead guilty, Applewhite said the board is “aware of the proceedings” and has been following the case. But he had no comment about anything else related to it, not confirming or denying additional legal action against the school system.
In sworn affidavits filed last fall, alleged victims told about sexual encounters with Bowling at his home, in Alabama and on fishing trips.
He was on his way home from a Sulligent football game Sept. 17 when he was arrested by federal authorities with a 13-year-old male in the vehicle. The youth later told authorities Bowling had touched him inappropriately several times.
Jimmy Newman, Sulligent education superintendent, said Tuesday that although Bowling initially was put on administrative leave with pay, he is no longer a school employee and hasn’t been “for months.”
He also said he’s not aware of or worried about any potential liability issues against his school district as a result of Bowling’s behavior there.
The Lamar County, Ala., district attorney’s office could not be reached for comment about the possibility of state charges against Bowling. Several months ago, the county’s sheriff said a grand jury would consider evidence in the case.
Bowling’s sentence will not be determined for several months until the U.S. Probation Service completes an investigation to serve as a guide to Pepper, who will make the final decision.
Contact Patsy R. Brumfield at (662) 678-1596 or patsy.brumfield@journalinc.com.