by sean i. mills Staff writer

A jury of four women and eight men will decide this week if former state prison corrections office Donald Hughes is guilty of sexually abusing two young girls, or if, as the defense claims, he was just "rough-housing" with the children.

The trial before Judge Barry M. Donalty is expected to last until Thursday.

Key to the case will be the testimony of the two young girls — who were both 9-years-old when the accused abuse began. Both girls are expected to take the stand this week, as well as other members of their family. It is not yet known if Hughes will take the stand in his own defense. He could face between 15 to 50 years in prison if convicted on all charges.

First Assistant District Attorney Dawn Catera-Lupi, the prosecutor, told the jury in her opening statement Monday afternoon that the abuse began in September 2009 with the older of the two girls. The girl told law enforcers that Hughes would hug her from behind, and that his hands would linger on her chest.

Hughes "began to touch her in a way that made her uncomfortable," Lupi told the jury.

She said the touching would happen again about nine or 10 times between September 2009 and April 21, 2011, when the girl finally told her mother’s boyfriend about the abuse. Hughes was then arrested in May.

"It was worse" for the younger of the two girls, Lupi told the jury. The younger girl told investigators that Hughes not only touched her private areas, but that he asked her to touch him as well on multiple occasions.

Lupi also told the jury that they will see parts of a seven-hour video interrogation between Hughes and the state police, as well as recorded telephone calls between Hughes and the girls’ mother, as well as Hughes and his own mother.

"You’re going to hear on that phone call half-truths and small admissions" from Hughes to the girls’ mother, she said.

"He admitted to his mother that he had (the younger girl) inappropriately touch him" in the other phone call, Lupi stated.

Defense attorney Richard Bach is arguing, however, that touching the girls was just rough-housing. He said Hughes is impotent and is incapable of receiving sexual gratification.

"There’s no doubt that something happened," Bach told the jury. "Wrestling and horse-playing is what happened."

Bach also told the jury that the state police never investigated the two girls to see if their claims were made-up. Bach said the younger girl is a special education student, and it’s possible that the older girl led the younger girl on in making accusations against Hughes.

The older girl "started this whole ball of wax, and tutored, if you will, the other girl," Bach said. "What you have is word-against-word" between Hughes and the two girls.

Hughes, age 50, of 8304 Old Floyd Road, is charged with four counts of first-degree sex abuse and one count each of second-degree course of sexual conduct against a child and attempted first-degree criminal sexual act. He is free on bail.

Hughes was a corrections office at the Mohawk Correctional Facility in south Rome, state officials said. He was suspended without pay on May 7 following his arrest. Hughes had an annual salary of $62,639 and was hired in October 1989.