Hypnotist Principal Faces One Year in Jail, If Guilty

PHOTO: Dr. George Kenney, North Port High principle, is under investigation after a student he performed hypnosis on killed himself.
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A Florida high school principal faces two misdemanor charges for practicing therapeutic hypnosis without a license on students, three of whom have since died.

George Kenney, 51, was known to hypnotize students to help them achieve better test scores and peak athletic performance, despite being warned by his superiors to discontinue the practice. The popular principal allegedly defied those orders.

Kenney, who was reassigned to an administrative job with the Sarasota County School District, will resign from his job, effective June 30, when his contract expires, Scott Ferguson, a spokesperson for the district, told ABCNews.com.

"He was well regarded by many and I'm sure will be missed by many," Ferguson said, adding that the district plans to take no further action.

If convicted, the two misdemeanor charges could put the former principal behind bars for up to one year.

Principal Who Hypnotized Suicidal StudentsFaces Charges

Kenney's use of the practice came under scrutiny after Kenney acknowledged he had hypnotized Wesley McKinley, 16, the day before the teenager killed himself in April. Brittany Palumbo, 17, killed herself in May of last year, five months after her session. Marcus Freeman, 16, the school's star quarterback who was treated by Kenney, died in a car crash.

Mark Zimmerman, who is Kenney's lawyer, told ABCNews.com last year that no one has alleged that there is a link between the hypnosis of the three students and their deaths.

"Dr. Kenney had no indications that these were students who would take their own lives," he said in reference to Wesley McKinley and Brittany Palumbo. "It is a coincidence that of the many students he was working with, two had other things going on in their lives."

An internal investigation found the principal, who is not licensed but has taken some hypnosis courses, had hypnotized as many as 75 people-- students, parents and staff-- on school grounds.

One athlete told private investigators he had received 30 to 40 sessions from Kenney, according to the Herald Tribune.

Kenney initially denied using the technique on Palumbo and Freeman, two of the teens who died, when interviewed by a private investigator hired by the district. He later admitted he had treated both students.

"Dr. Kenney admitted that he lied … and he admitted that he did have sessions with both of the other deceased students," a report by Steele Investigations Agency, which was released in June, stated.

In his interview with the investigators, Kenney, a principal who had worked at the school since 2001, said he felt terrible about "putting his school and his students through something that they didn't need or deserve to have to endure on top of all the tragedy they already have experienced" and started to cry, the report says.

Kenney, who learned hypnosis at the Omni Hypnosis Training Center in DeLand, Fla., had made podcasts on reducing test anxiety and improving sports performance through hypnosis. He told investigators that his passion for helping students overcame his good judgment.

"He was only trying to help students be more successful and overcome some of the barriers," the report states.

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