TOLEDO — Jurors found a Marion teacher, accused of failing to report child sexual abuse that happened in her classroom, not guilty in less than two hours of deliberation in Tama County Associate District Court on Thursday.
The verdict wasn't read in open court because the prosecution and defense asked for a sealed verdict, which is common in misdemeanor cases. It may have been more for convenience today because the snowy conditions were worsening in Tama County.
Teacher Diane Graham and her lawyers were not in the courthouse when the jury reached a verdict. The jury started deliberating just before noon, following the three-day trial.
The parents and friends of the two 6-year-old girls, who said they were sexually abused by classroom volunteer, Logan McMurrin, then 15-years-old, in 2016, were in the courtroom and 6th Judicial District Associate Judge Casey Jones informally let them know the verdict. The parents were tearful when he told them and immediately left the building.
Assistant Linn County Attorney Andrew Powers, who remained in the courtroom, declined to comment.
Graham, who has taught at Starry Elementary for 17 years, was charged with failing to report child abuse as a mandatory reporter, a simple misdemeanor.
A criminal complaint shows the incidents occurred between Aug. 26 and Oct. 24, 2016 in the classroom.
Graham, who now is on administrative leave, failed to report the children’s disclosures to law enforcement or the Iowa Department of Human Services, a complaint stated.
McMurrin, now 16, later was convicted on three counts of sexual abuse against two 6-year-old girls and a 5-year-old girl. Graham’s trial was moved from Linn County to Tama County based on pretrial publicity.
Arguing the case
Powers, in his closing argument told the jurors the case of a Marion teacher accused of failing to report child sexual abuse boils down to three words “Do your job.”
Powers said the prosecution has to prove Diane Graham, kindergartner teacher at Starry Elementary School, failed to do her job in 2016.
Two girls, both 5 at the time, told Graham that McMurrin sexually abused them during rest period when he worked one-on-one with the girls, and Graham did nothing, Powers said.
One of the girl’s mother then sent an email to Graham when her daughter told her, Powers pointed out. The mother in the email gave details of the abuse. The prosecution showed Graham, who is a mandatory reporter as a licensed teacher, “didn’t do her job.”
“You heard that straight from the defendant yesterday — she didn’t,” Powers said. “She didn’t orally report it to DHS or in writing and didn’t contact law enforcement (as required by law).”
Graham told the elementary principal and then it was kicked up the “chain of command.”
Powers also asked the jury to consider the testimony of Sara Sievers, who shared a classroom with her mentor, Graham, at Starry. Sievers said she had concerns about McMurrin, who was her volunteer several months before and asked him to be removed after a week.
Sievers was concerned about McMurrin’s behavior, which included him picking up a child and putting her on his hip and another time he had a child sitting on his lap, Powers said. Sievers said she told Graham about the incidents.
Graham admitted telling a police officer one of the girls said McMurrin was tickling her, but Graham said he was a “good boy, it’s fine,” Powers said.
The girls’ stories were consistent and didn’t change over time, Powers noted. They testified over a year later and said the same thing.
Mark Brown, Graham’s lawyer, in his closing agreed with Powers regarding the jury’s duty to follow the law and seek justice. However, that’s the only agreement he made.
Brown asked the jury to note nobody from the Marion School District testified to say Graham didn’t do her job. And there were no witnesses to rebut the defense’s expert witness who told the jury how memories of children can be influenced when they have to tell more than one person and how memories change over time.
Brown urged the jury to consider that the girls first talked to mother, then more than one school official before giving their statements in the protection center interviews. Nobody knows what those people asked them or what the girls said, he noted.
Brown, calling this an unusual case because the state has to prove Graham “knowingly and willfully failed to report” the abuse.
“What’s her motivation for not reporting? She is a veteran teacher who operates a group home for (special needs) children. What would be the motivation to destroy her home and life?”
Brown also asked the jurors to look at how Graham was charged in this case. Look at the timeline. A Marion police officer was “targeting” her in November 2016 but a charge wasn’t filed by the Linn County Attorney’s Office until five months later, after the McMurrin trial. And a prosecutor asked Graham to testify in that trial as a prosecution witness.
“They knew what she was going to say — they had done depositions,” Brown said. “They were affirming to a judge the validity of her testimony. Then two weeks later she is charged. You call that unbiased investigation.”
Brown asked them not to let the prosecution’s “rotten decisions” influence them and that they find Graham not guilty.