Wake jury continues deliberations in headmaster's sexual battery trial
Posted September 30, 2013
Raleigh, N.C. — Jury deliberations continued Monday in the criminal trial of the former headmaster of East Wake Academy who is accused of inappropriately touching two female teachers who worked at the school in 2011.
Brandon Smith, who held the position of the Zebulon charter school's top administrator for nearly 10 years, is charged with two counts of sexual battery and two counts of assault on a female stemming from the allegations.
One of the women testified last week that Smith had an erection when he gave her an unwanted hug in November 2011 and that afterward, he whispered in her ear, "Do you see what you do to me?"
Another teacher testified that Smith told her in August 2011 that he "just might not be able to control myself" before pulling down her pants and exposing her left buttock.
The jury of seven men and five women deliberated for nearly three hours Friday before being sent home for the weekend.
Minutes after resuming Monday morning, it sent out a note asking the court if it could render judgment on some of the charges but be hung on others.
Superior Court Judge Carl Fox told the panel that each verdict is independent of the other but urged jurors to try to reconcile verdicts without surrendering their personal convictions.
A guilty verdict on all four charges – all misdemeanors – could result in a maximum of 120 days in jail for Smith. If he's found guilty of sexual battery – the most serious of the charges – he would have to register as a sex offender.
Smith's has denied the claims, and his attorneys said during closing arguments Friday that the allegations weren't criminal.
The state, Robert Lane said, didn't prove beyond a reasonable doubt the three elements required for a sexual battery conviction – that his client had sexual contact, that the contact was unwanted and that it was for Smith's sexual gratification.
The defense argued that the allegations were financially motivated and that a guilty verdict would help the teachers in a civil lawsuit pending 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 of Smith's attorneys was that one of the teachers never mentioned that he hugged her while he had an erection. She was given an opportunity to do so in a written statement to police and in an interview on the same day.
"What's the most important thing that she could have said?" Lane asked jurors. "Not anywhere in any of the writings, when she had the chance to put down what happened to her, did she do that."
The jury on Monday morning asked to re-watch video of the teacher during a police interview in which she described her encounters with Smith but never mentioned the erection.
Wake County Assistant District Attorney Melanie Shekita said Friday that the woman was uncomfortable talking about the erection but that she did mention sexual contact in a lawsuit she filed against Smith when he first filed a defamation claim against her.
Shekita told jurors that Smith was a well-respected educator who helped build East Wake Academy's reputation as a school of excellence and that his position was "a perfect facade for a predator" that he used to intimidate his accusers to the point that, if they told, they would lose their jobs.
"What the defendant did was for his own sexual gratification and for his own sexual arousal," she said. "He used his status as a good educator at a good school to do what he wanted to do."
In an effort to show a pattern of inappropriate behavior, the state called several former and current school employees to testify about how Smith made unwanted sexual comments and touched them inappropriately.
"People say actions speak louder than words, so when you combine the defendant's actions and words, it screams to you sexual battery," Shekita said.