Detroit News

November 2, 2006

Judge reviews assault case

Sentencing of Oak Park teacher is delayed as his conviction on two sexual attacks gets re-examined.
Mike Martindale / The Detroit News

PONTIAC -- An Oakland County circuit judge said Wednesday she would "review everything" in the case of an Oak Park school teacher who has been convicted of sexually assaulting two young boys at the school.

Judge Denise Langford Morris made the statement after appeals attorney Robyn Frankel asked that the judge either order an acquittal or a new trial for James Perry. Morris has delayed sentencing until she reviews the case that led to his Sept. 19 conviction.

"Given the nature of assertions and arguments, it necessitates a full review of information including videotaped statements of witnesses ... I am going to have to take the opportunity to review everything," the judge said.

A jury convicted Perry of assaulting the boys, ages 4 and 5, in Oct. 2005.

Frankel told Judge Morris there are several grounds for acquittal or a new trial for Perry, including the young victims' conflicting versions of what happened and how Perry was stigmatized before the jury during trial by wearing an electronic tether, which she described as a "Scarlet Letter."

Frankel also said there was no other eyewitness or physical evidence of the assaults. In addition, late in the trial one special education teacher who was never interviewed by police revealed that two other employees at Key Elementary School also doubt the sexual attacks could ever have taken place as described. The teacher said contrary to earlier reports, the special education classroom was always occupied and supervised.

"What has happened to him is incredible," said Frankel outside the courtroom. "I believe he deserves to be acquitted of the charges, or at least given a new trial and new jury."

Assistant prosecuting attorney Andrea Dean told Morris the jury heard all available evidence and testimony, including from Perry.

And while some testimony may conflict, that doesn't mean the boys weren't assaulted, Dean said.

"People make mistakes people may not remember (everything)," Dean told Morris. "There is nothing to indicate this did not occur as established ..."

Frankel countered to Morris: " 'People make mistakes' -- I'll say. The mistake in this case is the conviction of the man next to my left."

Perry, 32, who remains in the Oakland County Jail, was scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 9 for first-degree criminal sexual conduct. The boys have said they were pulled out of a lunch line by Perry and taken to an empty special ed room and assaulted.

In subsequent interviews with police and court testimony, the boys gave differing versions of the circumstances and one could not identify Perry in the courtroom.

Outside the courtroom, Frankel noted defendants never sit through a trial in handcuffs or shackles -- unless they have shown to be a threat or escape risk -- or even dressed in jail clothing because it can prejudice a jury against them.

"He sat through the trial wearing an electronic tether with antennae on it for all the jury to see," she said. "But what does that tell a juror?" she asked.

"It tells them someone is considered dangerous and needs to be monitored."

Frankel said if Morris does not rule in Perry's favor, she will file again with the appeals court.

You can reach Mike Martindale at (248) 647-7226 or mmartindale@detnews.com.


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