Ex-teacher accused of sex crimes against children takes the stand
Published: September 12, 2012
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ST. CROIX - Former elementary school teacher Tydel John spent the day on the witness stand Tuesday, but before he was called as the final defense witness in the case, his attorney Martial Webster filed a motion for a mistrial.
John, 60, is charged with multiple counts of child molestation, unlawful sexual contact and child abuse in connection with three different arrests since 2007. The cases have been consolidated.
Outside of the jury's presence, Webster told the court that he was hesitant in filing the motion but said the issue is one that had been of concern to him throughout the trial. He filed the motion for a mistrial or dismissal, or in the alternative said he wanted information about parties to a federal civil lawsuit filed against Good Hope School by minors who are reported victims in John's case.
In the motion, Webster said neither he nor his client had been given any information about the suit and that before the case began he had requested discovery information from the prosecution, which they should have provided and which should have included the lawsuit information.
Without knowing about the lawsuit and whether any other witnesses were party to the suit, John stands at a disadvantage and his right to a fair trial has been compromised, according to Webster.
Webster said in the motion that the prosecution at least should have told him that one of the key witnesses had filed a civil lawsuit involving the same allegations of rape and molestation. He asked that the court grant the motion for a mistrial as a result of prosecution misconduct.
Despite the motion and the fact that the prosecutions had not been given an opportunity to respond, V.I. Superior Court Judge Harold Willocks allowed Webster to proceed with calling John as his last witness. Willocks said that based on his research, he was allowed to go forward with the trial and the ruling could be held in abeyance as long as the ruling is made before the case goes to the jury and both parties have an opportunity to respond.
The prosecution is expected to file its response to Webster's motion for dismissal today.
The trial is now in its third and final week.
John was arrested three separate times: Dec. 5, 2007; in April of 2008; and in August 2009. In the first two arrests, he was charged with molesting girls between the ages of 8 and 13 as he taught at two different schools on the island. While on pre-trial release, he was charged with touching a girl in Mutual Homes.
Willocks also is expected to make a ruling on a Rule 29 motion for dismissal that the defense filed last week in the trial. Webster argued that the charges against John should be dismissed because the prosecution had failed to present sufficient evidence to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt.
Assistant Attorney General Charlotte Poole Davis argued that she believed the evidence was clear and that the prosecution had proved its case that John molested the girls and that they had suffered emotional injury as a result.
On Friday, after the prosecution rested its case, Willocks dismissed two of the 19 counts that had been filed against John and took seven additional counts relative to child abuse under advisement.
John took the stand Tuesday morning and upon direct examination testified that he is a classroom teacher with 44 years of experience and has been on administrative leave without pay for the last five years.
He described his educational background as he began his early schooling on his home island of St. Vincent, where he began teaching as a teenager. He said that after he moved to the Virgin Islands in 1994, he earned a bachelor's and master's degree from the University of the Virgin Islands and was in the process of earning an online doctorate degree from Capella University when he was arrested. After his arrest, John was allowed to travel for a conference relative to the class he was taking, but after his 2009 arrest, he was taken into pre-trial detention pending the outcome of the trial.
Webster had him describe a number of administrative conferences that he had to attend at Good Hope School at which parents had raised concerns about his teaching style and classroom mannerisms after students complained that he yelled at them, belittled them in front of the class or intimidated them in his classroom. At another conference, about his volunteer work with the soccer team, a parent said he did not give the students fair play and had called them "jokers" on at least one occasion. John denied the allegations and said the concerns were resolved amiably.
John testified that once he had completed his bachelor's degree he moved from Good Hope School to Eulalie Rivera School because there were more benefits. He said he received two outstanding evaluations at Rivera, but in his third year some students complained that he had hit them in the classroom and that he and school principal Jewel Ross Brathwaite butted heads about the issue.
He said he admitted to giving the children a slight cuff in their heads but refused to go to anger management as Brathwaite had suggested. He was given two days of unpaid suspension and transferred from the school the following year.
John testified that Brathwaite told him he was wasting his time with low-income children. Something she said was untrue in her testimony last week.
Continuing his questioning, Webster drew John's attention to the testimony of his accusers and other former students. Webster asked John about his reaction to testimony that John had some of the girls as special friends so he could molest them.
"I was alarmed when they said that," he said. "There is never any favoritism in my classroom. It does not go well with my classroom management."
John continued, saying that every child is important to him and that he tried to build a good relationship and be approachable to all of his students.
"I was certainly the type of teacher who is too strict for special friends in my classroom," he said.
John also denied ever telling any of the students that he liked to play with little girls.
"I heard that testimony, and I was alarmed again," he said.
Before John's testimony ended for the night, he discussed the double standard that existed for male teachers and female teachers. He said he was the only man at most of the schools he taught at for a number of years and there was an unfair perception of when he could address female students.
"If a female teacher told a girl that her skirt was too short, it was fine, but if I said it, that created a problem," he said. "I was a teacher and have always done my job as a teacher."
The trial began Aug. 28 and during the course of the 10 days of testimony, jurors have heard from John's accusers, outreach specialists, hospital officials, school officials, a Department of Human Services counselor, police detectives, police officers, former principals, former colleagues, former students, John's sister, his wife, and a psychologist.
John will return to the witness stand when the case resumes at 9 a.m. today.
- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email email@example.com.