First juvenile testifies following opening arguments in trial of Summit Middle School teacher accused of sexual assault
By Thursday afternoon, the Summit County court had seated a jury and got opening arguments and witness testimony underway
Opening arguments and witness testimony kicked off Thursday, Sept. 21, in the trial of a former Summit Middle School gym teacher accused of sexual assault.
Leonard Grams, 62, has pleaded not guilty to five Class 4 felony charges of sexual assault on a child and three Class 3 felony charges of sexual assault on a child by a person in a position of trust, according to court records. His trial is expected to last through the end of next week.
“One teacher, three students, five sexual assaults, eight charges — that’s why we’re here this week,” Deputy District Attorney Aven Rose said in opening arguments for the prosecution.
Over the course of the trial, three of Grams’s former students — who were identified in court as J1, J2 and J3 to protect the anonymity of the alleged juvenile victims — will tell the jury that Grams sexually assaulted them when they were about 13, Rose said.
J1 will say that during a “high five frenzy,” Grams swept his hand across her breast, J2 will say that Grams touched her butt on two occasions during climbing activities, and J3 will say that he brushed his hand over her butt on one occasion and grabbed it on another, Rose said.
“No he did not,” Defense attorney Jake Lilly said in open arguments. “Now, maybe you should hear the rest of this story.”
Grams has taught for more than 30 years, Lilly said. He mentioned Grams had a reputation for being strict about the rules and grading, prompting some students to dislike him.
“We know a number of these students hated Grams before any of this happened,” Lilly said.
All three of the students raising accusations had bad grades in Grams’ class, Lilly claimed. In mid- to late-September, J1 came forward with accusations against Grams during a group counseling session with the school counselor, Maureen Flannagan, he said.
Flannagan then instructed J1 to write a statement about what happened, and J1 did so over the weekend, Lilly said. But when J1 showed the statement to Flannagan the next week, she had J1 rewrite it because it didn’t include details about being touched, he said.
Then, J2 came forward “to support her friend,” Lilly said, claiming that Grams touched her butt for a full minute in a class with another 12 to 15 people there. A district attorney’s investigator and a detective could not track down anyone who saw the alleged sexual assault, he said.
At one point, Flannagan had J1 and J2 in the same room talking about their accusations, Lilly said. He described Grams as a “stickler for safety,” so checking climbing harnesses — which is when J3 claims she was touched in one instance — would have been a big deal for him.
“Here’s the real kicker,” Lilly said.
J3 claims she yelled “F*** you” at Grams after he touched her butt in the middle of class, but “not a single other student can substantiate that,” Lilly said.
After opening arguments, J1 took the witness stand. Now 15, J1 said that she was 13 and in the 8th grade in 2021 when Grams touched her breast during a class he taught called Project Initiative, which she had been excited to take because her older friends said it was fun.
At the end of every Project Initiative class, Grams would have the students participate in a “high five frenzy” during which everyone would mill about giving each other high fives, aiming to give everyone in the class, including Grams, a high five, J1 said.
J1 said she was face-to-face with Grams and had just given him a high five as part of the frenzy when he swiped his hand horizontally across her breast and chest area. He was not bumped and did not trip, she said.
“I tried to think nothing of it and let it go,” J1 said.
But about two days later she mentioned it to a friend, J1 said. Then, during the group counseling session that friend told Flannagan that J1 had something to say, prompting J1 to disclose the allegations to Flannagan, J1 said. J2 was in this counseling group as well, she said.
J1 said when she wrote the statement about the incident for Flannagan, she received no instruction on what to write and no help from anyone else. It was only after J1 brought the first draft to Flannagan that Flannagan asked her to add more, J1 said, though she could not remember what Flannagan asked her to add or what was missing.
Lilly asked J1 if she attended a sleepover the weekend that she wrote the statement, but she said she did not. Lilly also asked her if she ever told Flannagan that Grams touching her breast could have been an accident, to which J1 replied “no.”
J1 said she had Grams as a teacher the previous year as a 7th grader but did “not necessarily” like him. J1 said she could not remember if her grade point average dropped because of Grams class. But, J1 said she did not raise the accusations against Grams because she disliked him.
J1 identified Grams by pointing at him in the courtroom as the person who touched her breast during the Project Initiative class.
Earlier Thursday morning, the defense and prosecution interviewed a panel of 28 potential jurors before whittling the panel down to 14 people — 12 jurors and two alternates.
The trial will resume 9 a.m. Friday morning with additional witness testimony.
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