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Ex-headmaster found guilty of assault, sexual battery in mixed verdict

Posted September 30, 2013

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— 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."

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  • westernwake1 Oct 1, 2013

    "And yet there was no sex, either voluntary or forced, he did not touch a woman on her breasts or private area. It seems like a pretty loose definition there." - paulej

    There is no loose definition here. This is the difference between felony sexual battery & assault and misdemeanor sexual battery & assault. Smith was convicted of misdemeanor sexual battery & assault which is why he got a sentence of under a year as per sentencing guidelines. The legal definitions of these crimes are very clear. If Smith touched a woman on her breasts or private area against her will - he would have been convicted of felony sexual battery & assault and be sentenced to several years in prison.

    There are over 100 women who have endured Smith's inappropriate behavior - I expect all of them believe he presents a real danger to women and belongs on the sex offender registry. Why don't you ask his victims about this?

  • Alexia.1 Oct 1, 2013

    "His crime is sexual battery and assault as outlined in the North Carolina criminal code" --westernwake1

    And yet there was no sex, either voluntary or forced, he did not touch a woman on her breasts or private area. It seems like a pretty loose definition there.

    He certainly was a pervert and made women feel uncomfortable -- I get that. He should not have that job, but women were not at risk, nor were kids, or anyone else. Yet, it's still a sexual assault?

    The sex offender registry is supposed to be a serious and useful tool to alert people about "bad people" who might present a real danger to women or children. This sentence really means that list is a joke. This man is no risk.

  • westernwake1 Oct 1, 2013

    "So is the crime hitting on women? Or being the boss hitting on women? So he might have been a pervert, but this requires a 30-year registration as a "sex offender"?" - paulej

    His crime is not "hitting on women". His crime is sexual battery and assault as outlined in the North Carolina criminal code and underlined by Smith's conviction. And yes, by law this requires registration as a sex offender.

  • Alexia.1 Oct 1, 2013

    "Let's see, he pulled the pants down of one, pulled many into unwanted hugs..." --Whatsupdoc2

    I he did not pull them down in a sexual manner, nor did he pull them off or below her rear. He showed somebody in the room her tattoo. This is sexual?

    "Smith is a manipulative serial predator who used his administratrive positions to criminally abuse women..." --westernwake1

    So is the crime hitting on women? Or being the boss hitting on women? So he might have been a pervert, but this requires a 30-year registration as a "sex offender"?

  • westernwake1 Oct 1, 2013

    "I'm not defending the man, but I am questioning this 30 years registration requirement on a "sex offender" list. Exactly what did he physically do that warrants registration?" - paulej

    Smith is a manipulative serial predator who used his administratrive positions to criminally abuse women who worked for him for nearly 30 years. The 30 years registration requirement on a "sex offender" is quite appropriate.

    Fortunately in this case - two women finally had the guts to come forward and take this to the criminal justice system. Unlike his previous jobs where women who complained were forced to leave - until apparently enough complaints existed that he departed from the school system - and simply went on to another school administrative position.

  • westernwake1 Oct 1, 2013

    "How can someone be found guilty when its one word against the other? No witnesses? You have two teachers who have accused him and its their word against his. They cannot even collaborate each others stories? The testimony of one doesn't even match the testimony to the police? 70+ personnel at this school and not one comes forward for the prosecution? They have proven beyond a reasonable doubt? Wow." - lost in translation

    You are completely incorrect. Have you followed the trial at all?

    The prosecution provided a sizeable group of teachers from the current and previous schools that testified how Smith made unwanted sexual comments and touched them inappropriately. This established a long term pattern of predatory criminal behavior. Sadly this is only a sub-set of the 100 or more who contacted the prosecutor's office and wanted to testify.

    Next time you may want to read the article.

  • Whatsupdoc2 Oct 1, 2013

    Let's see, he pulled the pants down of one, pulled many into unwanted hugs including one of the witnesses who said he pulled her in so close she felt his crotch while he said "you see what you do to me", grabbed another's shoulders while saying "you belong to me from 8 to 5), told another woman he wanted to hold her sandwich while she was eating it. He was the boss of all of these women and many testified they knew they'd be fired if they spoke up. So no, not at all like a TSA groping.

  • Alexia.1 Oct 1, 2013

    "No need to be afraid unless you feel you're at liberty to grope a woman who doesn't want you touching her." --Kaitlyn

    Did he? Like a good ol' TSA groping? Or did the women just not like a hand on the shoulder? What did he do, exactly?

  • Alexia.1 Oct 1, 2013

    "Folks who way they he didn't do any inappropriate touching didn't hear the evidence and didn't read the reports." --Whatsupdoc2

    I'll readily admit I didn't read the reports or watch the trial, but the news story did not report anything that I would classify as "sexual". Inappropriate is not the same as sexual.

    I'm not defending the man, but I am questioning this 30 years registration requirement on a "sex offender" list. Exactly what did he physically do that warrants registration?

  • Whatsupdoc2 Oct 1, 2013

    Folks who way they he didn't do any inappropriate touching didn't hear the evidence and didn't read the reports. This guy was named in another published lawsuit relating to his behavior towards a teacher in Durham County. Google it. See a pattern here?

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