Raleigh, N.C. — Defense attorneys in the trial of a Zebulon man accused of hugging a woman while he was sexually aroused and pulling down the pants of another woman told jurors during closing arguments Friday that the allegations against his client might be creepy but that they are not criminal.
"He's not on trial for sexual harassment. He's not on trial for saying inappropriate things. He's on trial specifically for the charges before you, and I submit to you that the state hasn't met its burden," Robert Lane said. "It doesn’t matter if you like Brandon Smith or don't like Brandon Smith. That's not the question here."
Smith, the former headmaster at East Wake Academy in Zebulon, faces two misdemeanor counts of sexual battery and two counts of assault on a female by a male that stem from accusations by two former teachers who say he inappropriately touched them.
The jury of seven men and five women deliberated for nearly three hours Friday afternoon before being sent home for the weekend.
If convicted on all four charges, Smith could face a maximum of 120 days in jail and would also have to register as a convicted sex offender.
Because of the sexual nature of the charges, WRAL News is not identifying either of the women.
One claimed Smith often made unwanted comments, including some about her wanting to sleep with him, and often hugged her to the point that she was uncomfortable. In November 2011, she testified, he hugged her while he had an erection and then whispered in her ear, "Do you see what you do to me?"
Another said that – in addition to hugs and inappropriate comments – in August 2011, he pulled down her pants, exposing her left buttock, in a teacher's lounge so that he could see a tattoo on her lower back after telling her "I just might not be able to control myself."
"He opened her pants," Wake County prosecutor Melanie Shekita told the jury of seven men and five women. "He took the liberty. He took it without her consent and without her knowledge and exposed her buttocks."
She conceded that the comments didn't warrant charges but that Smith's actions were without a doubt a crime.
"What the defendant did was for his own sexual gratification and for his own sexual arousal," Shekita said. "He used his status as a good educator at a good school to do what he wanted to do."
Smith's defense argued that the women's reasons for the charges were financially motivated because they had filed a lawsuit against Smith.
"In essence, they're asking you to be a co-conspirator to help them in this case, in the sense that 'Convict Brandon Smith,' and it makes the lawsuit better,'" Lane said. "This is all about a civil case when you get down to it."
A major contention by Lane was that the claim about Smith being aroused when he hugged the teacher was manufactured and only mentioned it recently when she learned that sexual contact was necessary for a sexual battery charge.
But Shekita said the lawsuit, filed against Smith in September 2012, was in response to a defamation lawsuit he filed against them in April 2012 and that it was proof that bolstered the teacher's claim. A judge dismissed Smith's lawsuit in November 2012.
"She, back in September 2012, talked about groin-to-groin contact," Shekita said. "So, to suggest that the first time she mentioned this was at a deposition three weeks ago is contrary to the evidence."
Both women, she added, initially went to East Wake Academy's Board of Directors with concerns, and only after seeing their concerns weren't being taken seriously went to police.
"They went to the board, because they wanted this predator to stop preying on women at that school," Shekita said. "They never asked for one red cent until he sued them."