A Galway Town Board member who coached a youth rifle team has been convicted of endangering the welfare of a child for leading a 15-year-old girl to a bedroom and trying to take off her shirt last summer at his Adirondack camp.
Authorities said Michael Tillson, 64, of 6113 Fish House Road, was convicted Tuesday of the misdemeanor charge after a jury deliberated for about 20 minutes in Indian Lake Town Court in Hamilton County.
Sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 14, but Tillson was sent immediately to the Hamilton County jail, a six-cell lockup in Lake Pleasant whose claim to fame is that it was the home of notorious Adirondack serial killer Robert Garrow Sr. during his 1974 trial in Hamilton County.
Judge Judith Durkin ordered Tillson to jail immediately after Hamilton County District Attorney Marsha Perdue suggested he might be a flight risk before his sentencing, since he lives out of the area and faces a maximum sentence of a year in jail.
His defense attorney, John Sutton, did not request bail. Sutton did not return calls for comment Wednesday.
Tillson has been on the Town Board for 20 years, is currently deputy supervisor and until about six months ago was chairman of the Ethics Committee. He runs Milburt Farm and Greenhouse in Galway with his wife.
He cannot be removed from office for a misdemeanor conviction, Galway town Supervisor George Hargrave said Wednesday. But he added that Tillson’s term ends in December and he is not seeking re-election.
Hargrave plans at the Aug. 13 meeting to name Town Board member Paul Lent as deputy supervisor, an appointment he can make at his discretion.
Tillson is no longer a coach for the Galway Junior Rifle Club, which is run by the Galway Fish and Game Club. That connection ended last year “about two minutes after I found out about what he did,” said Chuck Boykin, who coaches the junior club and runs the rifle program, which also includes the competitive Galway Rifle Team.
Boykin said people in the club would be glad to hear of Tillson’s arrest.
“The guy really betrayed the kids’ trust in a big way.”
Tillson started working with the rifle club informally about two or three years ago, then became one of the team’s coaches, Boykin said.
Although the victim was in the rifle club, she mostly knew Tillson outside of the club and her parents were friends with him, Boykin said.
In July 2012, the girl accompanied Tillson to his Indian Lake camp, where he said he needed help putting in a cooking stove, said Hamilton County District Attorney Marsha Perdue, who prosecuted the case against Tillson on Monday and Tuesday. Originally, another teen was also going to go, but couldn’t at the last minute, Perdue said, so the victim was alone with Tillson at the camp.
She and her parents trusted him, and the parents were “devastated” when they learned what he did, Perdue said.
“What she said is he was like a father figure to her.”
Tillson breached that trust, the girl testified at trial, when he led her by the hand into his bedroom, turned back the sheets, took off his shirt and lifted hers, Perdue said.
“He got it about midway and she stopped him,” the district attorney said.
She ran to an adjacent bedroom, anchored the door closed with her feet and tried to make a call on her cellphone and access the Internet on her computer, but was unsuccessful at both. Cell service is spotty in parts of the Adirondacks, including Indian Lake.
“Finally, after about 15 minutes, she said she got up and she went to him and said, ‘You need to take me home now,’ ” Perdue said. It was about 11:30 p.m.
He started to drive her home, and when they got to Speculator, the girl got reception on her cellphone and told Tillson to drop her off at a motel, where the owner let her in and called police when she told him what happened, Perdue said.
As the teen sat on the witness stand, “she just told her story and the tears were running down her face.” At least one juror also cried, she said.
Tillson was the only witness to take the stand in his defense and denied making certain verbal statements the day after the incident, disputing a state police investigator’s testimony that Tillson said he lifted the girl’s shirt because he wanted to see her breasts and he then wanted to cuddle with her in bed.
Perdue plans to request Tillson get the maximum sentence and a stay-away order so he won’t contact the victim, who is still in counseling a year after the incident.
“I think she has her good days and bad days still,” Perdue said.
The girl and her parents were pleased with the guilty verdict.
“When they heard the verdict, she just started crying, and her parents were crying. It was very emotional.”