Ex-headmaster found guilty of assault, sexual battery in mixed verdict
Posted September 30, 2013
Raleigh, N.C. — After seven hours of deliberations, a Wake County jury returned a mixed verdict Monday in the sexual battery case of a Zebulon charter school's former headmaster who was accused of inappropriately touching two teachers while they worked for him.
Brandon Smith was found guilty of one count each of sexual battery and assault on a female for pulling down a teacher's pants in August 2011 to see a tattoo on her lower back.
The teacher testified last week that Smith told her just prior to the act that he "just might not be able to control (himself)."
The jury, however, was deadlocked on a verdict on the same charges stemming from the second teacher's claim that Smith hugged her in November 2011 while he was sexually aroused and then whispered in her ear, "Do you see what you do to me?"
Smith, who held the position of East Wake Academy's top administrator for nearly 10 years, was initially sentenced to 120 days in jail – 60 days for each charge, but Superior Court Judge Carl Fox will revisit the sentence Tuesday afternoon after defense attorneys asked the sentence be reconsidered.
They contend that, under the law, the sentences should be consolidates into one sentence instead of two because both charges stemmed from the same act.
Regardless of active jail time, Smith must also register as a sex offender for 30 years as a result of his conviction on the battery charge – something that will keep him from ever educating children again.
"I couldn't begin to describe my emotions at this time. I have worked and lived in communities and tried my best to be a good citizen, be productive and contribute to those communities," Smith said before his sentence. "I can tell you that I have certainly lost my career with this new label … I still maintain my innocence."
Wake County Assistant District Attorney Melanie Shekita said she plans to re-try Smith on the remaining charges. After the verdict, he rejected an opportunity for a plea deal and could face more jail time if he's convicted.
"There were lots of things that the jury did not hear about past behavior and things like that," Shekita said. "I really feel like it is something the state can't let go at this point."
The jury of seven men and five women deliberated for nearly three hours Friday, and minutes after resuming Monday morning, it sent out a note asking the court if it could render verdicts 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.
Smith's attorney, Robert Lane, said during closing arguments Friday that the allegations weren't criminal and that the state hadn't proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt. Lane contended the second teacher never mentioned in a police interview or written statement to investigators that Smith hugged her while he had an erection.
"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."
As part of its deliberations, the jury re-watched video of the teacher's police interview in which she described her encounters with Smith but never mentioned the erection.
Shekita said during sentencing Monday that Smith was a well-respected educator who helped build East Wake Academy's reputation as a school of excellence but that his position was "a perfect facade for a predator."
"I don't use the word predator for adults very often – probably never in my 15-year career here – but that's exactly what he did in this case," Shekita said. "He targeted women that fit the profile. He sought them out and made them worry about their own jobs as a result of what he did to them."
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.
"It's clear that underneath all that reputation there was a dark side to the school, and for the students and some teachers, it was a really nice place to be and for others it was almost a little school of horror," Fox said. "It's clear to this court that you exploited a lot of aspects of your power. You literally viewed these women as chattels."