INDEPENDENCE -- Defendant Fayla Cannon's trial ventured into the paranormal Monday with testimony about Satan, hints at possession and an alleged "cleansing" performed on a 16-year-old student at Independence High School.
Jurors also heard from the boy's parents, Mary Beth and Brian Brinkema.
Cannon, 56, of Rowley, is charged with three counts of dissemination and exhibition of obscene materials to a minor and with three counts of malicious prosecution.
The charges are serious misdemeanors, in a legal sense relatively minor, but Cannon's arrest and now trial have attracted attention in the community because of many unusual revelations.
Cannon in 2014 was employed as a paraeducator and was assigned a boy with profound disabilities and extremely limited mental function, according to multiple witnesses. In October of that year she turned over "writings" allegedly conveying the boy's accusations of sexual and physical abuse.
The alleged perpetrators included the boy's former paraeducator, Nicole Weber; two former students; and the boy's parents.
Defense attorney Leon Spies started Monday's session by asking for a mistrial, later accusing Buchanan County Attorney Shawn Harden of "an effort to torpedo the defendant's case" and of "prosecutorial misconduct of the gravest nature."
Harden over the weekend requested an arrest warrant for Rhonda Zieser, a lead witness for the defense. As of Monday afternoon, the warrant had not yet been executed.
According to Harden, Zieser committed perjury during a deposition.
Zieser, according to Harden, claimed third-grade teacher Nancy Black allowed her husband, William Black, a minister, to hold a prayer service with and for the boy.
Zieser allegedly described the event as a "cleansing."
"Personally, I would call it an exorcism," Harden told Judge Fangman.
The "cleansing" allegedly happened during school hours and was performed without permission of the boys' parents, according to Harden.
The pastor was called in because of a statement allegedly made by the boy.
"I'm not (that boy,) I'm Satan," Zieser said the boy wrote in third grade. She said the boy in writing also occasionally called her and others a "bitch."
However, Harden said Zieser's deposition was "inaccurate at best" and the people involved denied performing the "cleansing." Harden said he requested the arrest warrant after confirming their denials.
A subsequent defense witness, Joshua Lyons of Solon, a former elementary principal in Independence, later testified a teacher showed him a paper with the boy's Satan comment. Lyons denied knowledge of a "cleansing" in the school.
"No, that would be absolutely inappropriate," Lyons said.
Spies told Judge Linda Fangman the warrant would have a "chilling effect" on his defense witnesses.
"It has shaken our faith in the integrity of these proceedings," Spies added.
Fangman denied Spies motion for a mistrial, and Zieser, after consulting with an attorney, testified Monday afternoon. She told jurors the boy in third grade could write complete sentences, spell words correctly and use appropriate punctuation.
Previous witnesses for the prosecution, including Mary Beth Brinkema, the boy's mother, testified such skills were beyond the boy's mental and physical abilities.
Zieser said years later, after hearing about the boy's recent writings, she pulled Cannon aside.
"'This young man knows more than anyone gives him credit for,'" Zieser testified she told Cannon.
Harden earlier introduced several hundred pages of documents written by Cannon allegedly "hand over hand" sharing the boy's thoughts, concerns, accusations and answers to her questions. Before being sealed by the court, the documents were briefly available for review in their entirety.
In one passage, Cannon apparently shared her beliefs with the boy.
You have free articles remaining.
"I believe that God will take care of you and also take the needed steps to take care of Nicci (Weber,)" Cannon wrote.
In another section, the boy appears to question God's abilities.
"I don't believe He can do anything," the boy allegedly wrote.
"Do you think that He might have brought us together? So that you would get away from her and you would feel safe enough to tell what happened?" Cannon wrote.
"Yes I think he's very powerful then ??!" the boy allegedly wrote.
On another page, Cannon asked how the boy might deal with stress.
"I can go to school and go to church to talk to God," the boy allegedly wrote.
"That's what I would do too," Cannon wrote.
Harden's final witnesses were the boy's parents.
Mary Beth Brinkema testified about her son's abilities, disabilities and lifelong medical issues. The basic problem, she told jurors, is in his brain, where "the gray matter is not formed right" because of a genetic disorder.
Brinkema denied her son could write complete sentences on his own.
"He has never done more than a yes or a no," she testified.
Brinkema also denied her son can comprehend any sort of advanced or abstract concepts. Those would include topics, including some broached in the boy's alleged writings, such as God, death, heaven, sex, dumb, foster care, suicide, yesterday, today and tomorrow, Brinkema testified.
"He doesn't know what time lunch is," she said, or perhaps even understand what hunger is.
"He wouldn't know how to spell a lot of those words that were in the writings. It's just unbelievable," Brinkema added.
Even so, she said her son is upbeat.
"(He's) always been happy. (He's) a happy boy," Mary Beth Brinkema said.
Mary Beth and Brian Brinkema "had just always thought Nicci was doing the best" for their son and knew what was appropriate for him, according to Mary Beth Brinkema.
And yet, when Cannon replaced Weber, within two weeks Cannon was complaining about Weber's performance, according to Brinkema. Cannon also alleged Weber had done something bad to the boy.
"'I don't know what she'd done to him, but when he's ready to tell us, he'll tell us,'" Brinkema testified.
"'I don't know what she did to him in that bathroom'" Cannon said on another occasion, according to Brinkema.
On cross examination, Spies asked Brinkema about Iowa Test of Basic Skills that showed her son performing at or above grade level in elementary.
Brinkema testified she asked school district officials why her son had to take the tests and questioned their value. She said the officials told her they wanted the results.
"'We're not going to take them out because we like the scores he's getting,'" Brinkema testified.
"That's a harsh criticism," Spies said.
"Well, I don't think it's his work," Brinkema added.