TIPTON — The former owner of a Kokomo driving school was convicted Wednesday evening in Tipton Circuit Court of fondling a 15-year-old girl student driver last year.

Jurors deliberated from 2 to 7:30 p.m. before convicting 56-year-old Robert Burkhalter, former owner of Burkhalter Driving School in Kokomo.

The former Western Middle School teacher will be sentenced at 9 a.m. July 10. Burkhalter was remanded into the custody of the Tipton County sheriff department pending sentencing. The Class C felony carries a maximum of eight years in prison.

“I presented the state’s case to the jury, and they found it was sufficient to prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt,” Tipton Prosecutor Jay Rich said after the verdict.

“I applaud the victim for her willingness to see the case through to the conclusion — she demonstrated great courage.”

Rich called several witnesses, including the 15-year-old victim, to the stand during the two-day trial. The victim told jurors that Burkhalter touched her inappropriately during a driving lesson in Tipton County.

State police arrested Burkhalter in March 2008 on the charges.

After his arrest, he denied the charge but did not take the stand during the trial.

Kokomo attorney Bill Beck, who represented Burkhalter, did not call him as a witness.

“I just feel bad for everybody involved,” Beck said afterward.

The warrant issued out of Tipton Circuit Court stems from a July 2007 complaint by the mother of the victim, who was a student of the former Burkhalter Driving School. The school has since been shut down by the Bureau of Motor Vehicles after Burkhalter was charged in the case.

The lead investigator in the case, ISP Detective Mike Tarrh, said he interviewed several females in Burkhalter’s driving class, including the victim. Tarrh said many of them came forward saying that Burkhalter often touched their legs and shoulders and tried to engage them in sexually explicit and suggestive conversation.

Prior to the incident, Burkhalter retired as a middle school math teacher at Western Community Schools, where he had been employed for 35 years.

He had been the owner and a driving instructor at the driving school since 2005.

• Mike Fletcher is the Kokomo Tribune crime reporter. He can be reached at (765) 454-8577 or mike.fletcher@kokomotribune.com.

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