HUNTINGTON, Ind. (WANE) – A Huntington Superior Court judge will take the request from a former college running coach to move his felony sexual battery case to another jurisdiction “under advisement.”
Whether 33-year-old Nicholas Johnson – ex-coach of Huntington University’s track and cross-country programs who is embroiled in accusations in a lawsuit that he ran a cult-like team where doping and sexual assault ran rampant – will face a criminal trial in Huntington or elsewhere will be decided before July 18, according to court officials.
Johnson’s attorneys argued during a hearing Thursday the case’s media attention makes it impossible for him to receive a fair trial in northeast Indiana.
Indicted by a grand jury this past March on one count of sexual battery, Johnson’s criminal case stems from an accusation that he knowingly and intentionally touched a woman in a rude or angry manner and intentionally touched her when she was forced to submit, according to court documents.
The woman’s identity has not been released.
A federal lawsuit filed by former Huntington University athletes this past fall named Johnson, his wife as well as an assistant coach, the university and the school’s trustees and administration as complicit in allowing an atmosphere where Johnson raped at least one athlete and forced others to take performance enhancing drugs.
The lawsuit itself has sparked heavy media attention, which led to Johnson’s attorney requesting his trial for sexual battery to be moved.
“The publicity surrounding Mr. Johnson’s previous cases, as well as publicity covering the instant case, has been vast, prejudicial, and has cast Mr. Johnson’s character in a poor light,” his attorneys wrote in court documents. “Frequent editorializing and widespread commentary on his character places his right to a fair and impartial trial by jury in great jeopardy, as his character is not relevant to the substance of the criminal charge he is currently facing.”
Johnson was fired as coach in 2020 amidst an investigation into another criminal case where he ended up accused of child seduction and kidnapping.
Investigators claimed Johnson performed inappropriate medical procedures on a person between the ages of 16 and 18 years old in that case, according to Huntington Superior Court documents.
Those allegations were similar to what some athletes described in the civil lawsuit filed against him and the university.
Johnson eventually pleaded guilty to identity deception and served 30 days in jail and two years on home detention in that criminal case, according to court records.
His wife, Lauren Johnson, a former Huntington University and international track star, took the reigns as head coach at Huntington when Johnson exited.
Runners said in their lawsuit nothing changed afterward, with former team members claiming the university encouraged other team members to visit Nicholas Johnson at his home for running advice and comradery.
That lawsuit is currently winding its way through U.S. District Court.
Huntington County prosecutor Jeremy Nix argued against a change of venue in Johnson’s criminal case.
The judge presiding over the case set the next court date as July 18, when a pre-trial conference is scheduled, and said a decision on whether there would be a venue change would be made prior to that hearing.
Johnson remains free on bond.