Jury acquits former Summit Middle School gym teacher of all sexual assault charges

The trial included testimony from the three alleged victims as well as the defendant himself

Former Summit Middle School gym teacher Leonard Grams leaves the courthouse after being acquitted of sexual assault charges on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023.
Ryan Spencer/Summit Daily News

A jury found former Summit Middle School gym teacher Leonard Grams not guilty Wednesday, Sept. 27, of sexually assaulting three of his students when they were about 13 years old.

The jury deliberated for just over three hours, before finding Grams, 62, not guilty of 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.

“Mr. Grams is very grateful for the people of the jury for listening and considering all of the evidence He’s always had a deep faith in the justice system,” said defense attorney Jake Lilly after the trial’s conclusion.

Grams took the witness stand during his own trial to tell the jury he did not do what the three former students accused him of doing. Each of the three alleged victims — who were identified in court as J1, J2 and J3 to protect the anonymity of juveniles — also testified.

Over the course of the trial, J1, J2 and J3 identified Grams as the individual who allegedly sexually assaulted them. The prosecution presented video recordings of forensic interviews conducted with each of the three students, as well as audio of interviews Summit School District Human Resources employees conducted with J1 and J2, where the students repeated the allegations.

J1 alleged Grams touched her breast during a “high-five frenzy” in a class he taught in fall 2021 when she was in eighth grade. J2 alleged he touched her butt on two occasions during climbing activities that same fall when she was in eighth grade in a different class. J3 alleged he touched her butt twice during the 2020-21 school year when she was in seventh grade.

In closing arguments, Lilly said “repeating something over and over and over again does not make it true.”

Lilly pointed to what he called “major inconsistencies” in the “terrible accusations” the three students raised, including the lack of eyewitnesses and physical evidence. He said the three students thought Grams picked on them and “they don’t like him, they hate him.”

“You’ve seen how hard it is to prove nothing happened. That’s not our job,” Lilly said, reminding the jury that the burden is on the prosecution, not the defense, to prove the facts beyond a reasonable doubt.

Lilly recounted each of the students’ testimonies and pointed to what he described as inconsistencies in each. He said he does not know why the students would raise false allegations, and although he can “guess based on how much they hated him,” the defense does not have to prove anything related to that.

“They have J1’s statement, J2’s statement and J3’s statement. That is it,” Lilly said. He concluded, “before you convict (Grams), make sure the evidence is there.”

In closing arguments for the prosecution Deputy District Attorney Lauren Crisera pointed to what she described as consistent statements from the three alleged victims throughout their testimony, forensic interviews and interviews with Human Resources.

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“Yes, he did,” Crisera said. She repeated each of the allegations before adding, “One teacher. Three students. Five acts of sexual contact.”

Crisera said the defense wanted the jury to believe J1 and J2 are “great masterminds” who cooked up a “plot” to take Grams down, but noted J1 came forward after a friend outed her and J2 came forward only after telling another student during a panic attack.

All three girls testified they did not raise allegations because of bad grades or animosity toward Grams, and none of them have anything to gain by raising baseless accusations, Crisera said. She said life is hard enough for teenage girls in middle school without having to recount allegations repeatedly.

“Why are these girls coming forward?” Crisera asked. “Because these things happened.”

No one in the class noticed because “Grams is a smart man and he positioned himself to have really good deniability on this,” Crisera said. She said he “picked his victims” and created activities in his class where sexual contact was easy because other students were distracted and would likely second guess what they saw, if they saw something, because he was a teacher.

“There is only one fair and just verdict in this case,” Crisera said. “And that is a verdict of guilty on all counts.”

Lilly noted the lead investigator on the case, Summit County Sheriff’s Office Sergeant Detective Mark Gafari, testified that he reached out to dozens of people who might have been witness to the alleged acts but none reported seeing it.

The fact that J1 went back to Grams’ class after raising the allegations is “perhaps the most inexplicable part of it,” Lilly said.

But, Crisera said everyone responds to trauma differently and noted that J1’s mom said she felt J1 was being punished by being kept out of the class, which included climbing rope courses.

“What makes it impossible to believe,” Lilly said, is that J3 testified that she shouted “f— off” at Grams in the middle of class after he touched her butt. But J3’s classmate testified that she doesn’t remember that ever happening or Grams ever touching J3. Crisera noted that in testimony the same classmate also said she didn’t want to be in court and stated it is easier not to remember hard things.

Crisera told jurors they would have to assess the credibility of each individual’s testimony and raised questions about why Grams, in hours of police and human resource interviews, had never mentioned that a course instructor, Tom Leahy, had been observing the class on one of the days J2 said Grams during a climbing activity.

Two of the alleged victims sat in the courtroom through closing arguments. Grams, dressed in a navy blue suit, sat quietly at the defendant’s table as the jury rendered its verdict.

The school district placed Grams on leave in October 2021. Police arrested him on Aug. 9, 2022, and he submitted his resignation to the school on Aug. 31, 2022.

Grams declined to comment after the trial, deferring to his attorney.

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