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Former Hopkinton counselor pleads in attack on uncle

A former Hopkinton guidance counselor charged with brutally attacking his elderly uncle in a Manchester parking garage last year pleaded guilty yesterday to simple assault.

Gene Fox made the decision to plead in the midst of a jury trial at Hillsboro County Superior Court. He was being tried on a more serious felony charge of second degree assault, and by pleading, Fox received a sentence far reduced from the one he faced if the jury had found him guilty.

Fox said yesterday that he and the prosecutor agreed to the negotiated deal because the initial charge was “hefty for the activity that was involved.”

But Assistant County Attorney Michael Valentine said that wasn’t the case, noting that Fox made the decision to plead guilty after the state had laid out the evidence against him.

“I think Mr. Fox misunderstands both the significance of his plea and the significance of his actions, if that’s what he said. The charge that the state brought was certainly warranted. His eventual willingness to be held accountable is the only reason the state agreed to reduce the charge,” Valentine said.

Fox, 64, was charged last April after his then 74-year-old uncle told the police that his nephew had attacked him as they were leaving Manchester’s district court following a probate hearing regarding a relative. The uncle told the Monitor that Fox punched him in the face, then repeatedly stepped on his torso and neck as he lost consciousness. The man said he spent two days in the hospital recovering from his injuries.

At the time, Fox was a guidance counselor at Hopkinton Middle/High School, where he worked primarily with 10th- through 12th-graders on college counseling. In June 2012 Fox agreed to resign, receiving $35,000 severance pay and up to a year of health insurance, according to the district.

Fox declined to discuss the fight in detail yesterday, but he denied the allegations made by his uncle and said they were “both actively involved.”

“Yes, we had an altercation. Yes, there was a problem,” he said. “But, you know, the scope of it certainly wasn’t as powerful as what was written” in the media.

Valentine said Fox claimed in court documents and at the trial that he was acting in self defense and that his uncle had thrown the first punch.

Fox and his uncle both took the stand during the trial, which happened Wednesday and Thursday, and Valentine said he “felt comfortable with the evidence” presented. But the prosecutor said he was willing to lower the charge because Fox’s uncle ultimately wanted his nephew to be held accountable, not to end up in jail.

“You never know what a jury is going to do,” Valentine said. “And at that point Mr. Fox was willing, having heard all of the testimony himself, Mr. Fox was willing to withdraw his claim of self-defense and plead guilty. And it’s that level of accountability, . . . at some point you say that’s what our goal is.”

In pleading guilty Fox agreed that he recklessly caused injury to his uncle. But Valentine dropped language from the charge accusing him of doing so “under circumstances manifesting an extreme indifference to human life.”

Under the initial charge, Fox was facing up to 3½ to 7 years in prison and a fine of $4,000. Instead, he was sentenced yesterday to 12 months in the county jail, with the full period suspended pending two years of good behavior.

He is also being required to take part in an anger management program, according to Valentine.

Fox said yesterday that since leaving Hopkinton, he has not applied for other work because he was worried that if he was hired and then found guilty by a jury, he would have been forced to quit.

Fox said he now plans to again begin looking for work in education, specifically in counseling.

“I’m not sure, quite frankly, if public education is where I want to be,” he said. “And I’m not sure if public education would be open to, considering that this has been a different outcome, that they would be interested in hiring me.”

He said that he remains proud of the work he did during his seven years in Hopkinton.

“I just felt like I was not able to continue life’s work, which has always been with youth organizations and, or school children,” he said. “And so I regret not being able to continue working with the young people of Hopkinton. But I certainly understand (the district’s) concerns.”

Fox’s lawyer, Robert Moses, refused to comment. When reached yesterday at his home in Vermont, Fox’s uncle, Neal Fox, also declined to talk about the case.

(Tricia L. Nadolny can be reached at 369-3306 or tnadolny@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @tricia_nadolny.)

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