Brown convicted of sexual assault

REED CITY – Following her conviction on two sexual assault charges early Saturday morning, former MOISD teacher Janet Brown was not taken into custody.

Brown, of Evart, was charged with three counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct and one count of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct. She was found guilty of one CSC3 charge and one CSC4 charge, and found not guilty on the remaining charges.

With the late delivery of the verdict, Brown was not immediately taken into custody because Judge Scott Hill-Kennedy did not believe the Osceola County Jail was properly staffed to admit her in the middle of the night.

Normally, a defendant convicted of a sex crime would be taken into custody immediately after conviction. She instead was instructed to contact the probation department Monday to see when she would need to report to jail.

Much of Friday’s proceedings focused on Brown’s testimony, and closing statements did not conclude until 8 p.m.

Jurors were dismissed to deliberate around 8:30 p.m. Friday and returned with a verdict at 12:30 a.m. Saturday.

A sentencing date has not been set for Brown. Third-degree criminal sexual conduct, which involves penetrative sexual acts, carries a maximum 15-year sentence. Fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct is defined as “sexual contact,” which involves touching outside or beneath clothing, and it carries a maximum two-year prison sentence.

Brown taught at Ashmun School at Eagle Village in Hersey, an adjudicated youth facility for troubled teens, until November 2012, when she was placed on unpaid administrative leave after her involvement with her student was discovered. Ashmun School, a separate entity from Eagle Village, is run by the Mecosta-Osceola Intermediate School District. The victim was an Eagle Village resident who attended Ashmun School as a juvenile delinquent. He was 16 at the time of the allegations. The Pioneer does not name crime victims in its coverage of criminal cases.

The relationship was discovered when an Eagle Village administrator found the teen in possession of a cell phone given to him by Brown, a violation of Eagle Village rules. The teen attempted to lie about how he got the phone “to protect Janet,” but investigation of the phone revealed text messages from Brown and her phone number stored in the phone under the nickname “Boo,” the victim said in his testimony on March 18.

Brown’s attorney, James Talaske, contends that she gave the cell phone to the victim days before he was set to be transferred to another school so they could keep in touch when he left, not while he was at Eagle Village. The boy lied to her about his departure date, used the phone to call friends, and later lied about why he had run out of minutes, claiming he was downloading music.

Throughout the trial, Talaske attempted to paint the victim as a “habitual, pathological, compulsive liar” — words he used to describe the teen in his opening statement on March 18. During cross examination, Talaske asked the boy about times he was caught lying at other youth homes and inconsistencies in the boy’s court testimony and police interviews. He brought up statements from the boy’s Eagle Village friends who claimed, after Brown’s leave, the victim announced he’d get rid of the new teacher like he’d “gotten rid of one before.”

“And you’re supposed to be the victim, aren’t you?” Talaske said.

“I’m not,” the boy replied.

Brown testified on Friday that the victim was one of her best students, one of the only students she thought had true college prospects, and she described him as “funny in a devious way.” They formed a friendly relationship and talked about their personal lives, but the teen began to make advances on her, she said. Brown said at first she “shut him down and told him no,” but later allowed the victim to kiss her on one occasion.

With commentary from the victim to provide context, jurors spent three hours during the first day of trial reviewing surveillance footage taken in Brown’s classroom on Nov. 8, 10 and 15, 2012. Those are the dates the victim claims to have met Brown to have sex in a supply closet in her classroom, something he said they accomplished by positioning the closet door in front of one camera and exploiting a blind spot created by a broken camera in another area.

“Why don’t we see you on screen?” Osceola County Assistant Prosecutor Andy LePres asked the now-17-year-old victim on Wednesday as they reviewed the footage.

“Because that’s how it was supposed to be,” he replied.

Brown denied that they tried to hide in her supply closet and denied ever having sex with the boy. She drew diagrams of her classroom and reviewed surveillance video in which they appear to duck into the closet, explaining that she and the victim would have been visible through a window in a door that opened into the hallway.

Brown said she didn’t report subsequent advances by the student or the kissing incident because she had once seen a student embarrassed in front of his classmates after she reported a sexual note he wrote her.

She thought she could better handle the situation on her own, especially with this particular student.

“I thought (the victim) was mature enough to understand the difference between me trying to help him succeed in life and what his intention were,” she said.

Brown was critical of the investigation of her case, stating that police never asked her for a blanket the victim claimed they used on the floor of the closet when they had sex. She also objected to being interviewed while on Vicodin days after having her wisdom teeth removed and said she never believed that she wasn’t under arrest during the three-hour interview on Nov. 21, 2012.

“I have a lot of respect for police,” she said. “But to think that they’re there to protect me and what they did to me hurt me really bad, I’m very disappointed. ... I would hope that they would take these cases and imagine if it was their own kids going through this.”

In his closing statement, Talaske said the mistakes made on the part of the investigating officers who failed to collect physical, DNA evidence at the scene of the crime should have created enough doubt for jurors to acquit Brown.

“The presumption of innocence remains with her unless and until the state proves otherwise beyond a reasonable doubt,” Talaske said. “They screwed this up. If they screwed it up, who should suffer? The state.”

Five character witnesses — Reed City Police Chief Chuck Davis, who is Brown’s uncle; Fr. Joe Fix, a priest in Evart and Marion; Cadillac school teacher Andrea Benjamin; friend Jeffery Holcomb; and friend Melinda Booy, who chose Brown to be her children’s godmother — all testified to Brown’s reputation for telling the truth. None of them knew about the situation with her student prior to her arrest.

In his closing statement, LePres said he chose not to cross-exam Brown’s character witnesses because he didn’t question Brown’s character.

She did, however, make a mistake by not rejecting her student’s advances, he said.

“The truth is, she made a mistake. She made several of them,” he said. “(The victim) started the whole thing off and it progressed to kissing to touching to sex, and by the time it got to the sex part, it was out of control. I think eventually he was able to talk her into doing more, like he was able to talk her into giving him the phone.

“With a student/teacher relationship, it’s not important who went at who. It doesn’t matter who’s idea it was. ... If it happened, that’s all that matters.”