Lawrence massage therapist who had contracts with KU Athletics bound over for trial in child sex crime case

photo by: Douglas County Sheriff's Office

Shawn O'Brien, pictured in February 2020

A Lawrence massage therapist who had contracts with multiple University of Kansas women’s athletics teams was bound over for trial Tuesday in connection with alleged sexual abuse of a girl.

Shawn P. O’Brien, 49, was initially charged with one count of aggravated indecent liberties with a child based on a girl’s report that he had sexually abused her multiple times when she was 9 or 10 years old.

The university launched an investigation in early March after learning of O’Brien’s charges following a Journal-World article about the case. KU officials said contracts with O’Brien were immediately terminated, and the subsequent investigation reportedly found that at least six female student-athletes alleged “unwarranted touching during massages” with O’Brien.

Douglas County Deputy District Attorney David Melton filed amended charges against O’Brien July 14, adding six counts of sexual battery, all misdemeanors, involving four individuals. The amended charges do not specify whether the individuals are men or women, or whether they are current or former KU students or student-athletes. However, four of the counts are associated with offense report numbers provided by the KU Public Safety Office, according to the DA’s office.

Judges do not have to determine probable cause through preliminary hearings for misdemeanor charges, so none of the other alleged victims testified Tuesday.

Douglas County District Court Judge Sally Pokorny bound O’Brien over on the first charge, plus two additional counts of aggravated indecent liberties with a child based on the girl’s testimony.

The girl testified Tuesday that O’Brien had given her “massages” that started on her head, but he then worked his way down her neck and shoulders to her chest below her shirt and inside her underwear. She said these occurred when she was staying the night at his home, trying to sleep on the living room floor as some of his own children slept nearby.

The girl said she recalled three incidents; she said two had occurred when the weather was warm, and one occurred during Christmastime, because she remembered the Christmas tree. She could not give more precise dates, but Melton asked Pokorny to bind O’Brien over for the two additional counts the girl alleged occurred between June of 2013 and June of 2015, and Pokorny agreed that there was probable cause to support those counts.

The girl said O’Brien had told her that she shouldn’t tell anyone what happened because he said massages were “really expensive” and she was “lucky” to get one for free. She also testified that on one occasion, he had told her that he had a “massage test” at work the next day and that he needed to practice on her.

The three felony charges involving the girl are off-grid felonies, meaning they could be punishable by a life sentence.

O’Brien’s next court appearance is set for Oct. 21. His defense attorney, Philip Sedgwick, entered a plea of not guilty on O’Brien’s behalf Tuesday.

The Journal-World found through a request under the Kansas Open Records Act that at various times since 2015, O’Brien had provided massage therapy for the KU women’s basketball, women’s tennis, softball and soccer teams.

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