The case of a former San Jose elementary teacher charged with lewd acts with five young girls in 2012 was sent today to the jury, which is to decide whether what the girls said happened involved sexual activity. Craig Chandler, 36, faces charges of lewd and lascivious behavior filed by the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office, alleging he blindfolded the girls at the school and made then perform oral sex on him.
Chandler was arrested in his San Jose home on Jan. 10, 2012, on suspicion of aggravated sexual assault on at least one child aged 7 to 8 but prosecutors later added charges he assaulted four other girls in that age range. Prosecutors alleged he had each of the second grade female students stay behind during recess in his classroom at O.B. Whaley Elementary School at 2655 Alvin Ave. in East San Jose between August and October 2012, prosecutors said.
While in the classroom behind a locked door, Deputy District Attorney Alison Filo said Chandler put blindfolds on them under the guise of playing a feel and touch game and then placed his penis into their mouths. All five of the girls, known during the case as Isabell, Arleth, Laurie, Becky and Wendy, testified on the stand for the prosecution during the trial as did eight boys who were in Chandler’s class, Filo said.
The girls’ statements in court and in police videos included lurid details, such as one girl saying something “round” was put in her mouth, another saying there was something was “gooey” and another said she “could not close my mouth around it,” Filo said. The prosecutor showed the jury a picture drawn by one of the girls that Filo said looked like a man’s hair and testicles. In what Filo described as the case’s most important piece of evidence, traces of semen were found on two student chairs in Chandler’s class and tested positive for his DNA. In his closing argument today, defense attorney Brian Madden disputed the prosecution’s claim that the girls were describing oral copulation in their statements. Madden pointed to testimony by a defense witness Dr. William O’Donohue, a clinical psychologist and expert in child sexual molestation cases, who claimed the girls made inconsistent accounts about what occurred when they were alone in class with Chandler.
One girl who made the “gooey” remark actually said in a separate statement on video that a bottle of water was put to her mouth, and another girl who said something “round” or “curvy” was placed in her mouth said that it was “crackers and candy” during last year’s preliminary hearing, Madden said. The lawyer, who asked jurors to keep an open mind and consider only the facts in the case, complained that Chandler had been the victim of “panic” and “a rush to judgment” by parents and police, who asked the girls leading questions that resulted in biased answers.
None of the children described a sexual act consistent with oral copulation and parts of their testimony had been “influenced by other people” following news media reports of Chandler’s arrest last year, Madden said. In her rebuttal to Madden, Filo disparaged defense expert O’Donohue, whom she said was paid a fee of $20,000 to criticize the prosecution’s case but never interviewed any of the girls.
Only girls in Chandler’s class were asked to play the game during recess and none of the eight former male students in his class who testified said they had anything put in their mouths, Filo said. While some of the girls used different words to tell or testify about what happened at different times, they were only 7 or 8 years old and had no idea what was being placed into their mouths, Filo said. “There is no evidence these children even knew what this item is,” Filo said. “A second grader’s chair with the teacher’s sperm on it,” Filo said, referring to chairs that were used as evidence and placed beside the jury box for jurors to see. “It’s inconceivable.”
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