INDEPENDENCE -- Jurors on Wednesday heard from defendant Fayla Cannon, who talked about her experiences with a 16-year-old male student at Independence High School.
Cannon, 56, of Rowley, a former paraeducator with the district, is charged with three counts of dissemination and exhibition of obscene materials to a minor and with three counts of malicious prosecution.
Her attorney, Leon Spies, started with point-blank questioning about whether Cannon "manipulated" the boy -- who has profound disabilities -- into making allegations of sexual and physical abuse against several people.
"No," Cannon said repeatedly as Spies listed names.
The alleged perpetrators included the boy's parents, Brian and Mary Beth Brinkema, and the boy's former paraeducator, Nicole Weber. The boy also allegedly accused two former students.
According to Cannon, the boy conveyed his thoughts, questions and accusations using a "hand over hand" writing technique. He produced hundreds of pages by using his left hand to control her right, Cannon testified.
"Does he know more than people give him credit for?" Spies asked.
"Yes," Cannon testified.
"Feel more?" Spies asked.
"Yes," she added.
Previous witnesses, including the boy's mother, Mary Beth Brinkema, testified the boy does not have the mental capacity to craft sentences like those included in the "writings." Patrick O'Conner of Waterloo, a psychologist, testified the boy at 16 had an IQ of 18.
Cannon testified the "hand over hand" technique happened by accident when she could not get the boy's computer turned on. She picked up a pen and notebook, and the boy placed his hand on her own, Cannon said.
" ... And pretty soon he wrote," Cannon said.
She described the young man as "a happy boy" and funny.
"He thought I was funny at times. He was a joy to work with," Cannon added.
She served as the boy's paraeducator -- essentially an assistant and guide -- for nine weeks starting in August 2014.
One of the first indications of trouble were relayed to Cannon by Rhonda Zieser, another paraeducator in the district, according to Cannon.
"'He told me that he was the devil and he had seen his parents have sex,'" Zieser said, according to Cannon's testimony.
Cannon said Zieser was obviously upset and advised Cannon "to run" away from her assignment to the boy.
"The devil thing, I was like, 'Uhmm, I don't know about that,'" Cannon said.
She kept working with the boy, going to class like science and health and wellness. The boy seemed to absorb information, Cannon testified.
"It seemed like he was listening. He would ask questions," she said.
"In writing?" Spies asked.
"In writing," Cannon said.
During a health and wellness class, the boy interrupted their academic efforts with a statement about being upset.
"I was angry when Nicci pinched my penis in the bedroom," the boy allegedly wrote according to Cannon.
When the boy allegedly shared a wish Weber "should die" and be "put in the ground," Cannon took the information to Shalon Frye, a counselor at Independence High School.
Frye also testified Wednesday, telling jurors she shared concerns about Weber's performance as the boy's paraeducator. Frye said Weber was "maybe not the best fit for" the boy and told a district administrator it "was maybe just time for a change."
Frye testified she believed Weber and the boy spent too much time in a hallway and out of class. Frye also said she heard Weber reading novels to the boy.
"Novels I assumed Nicci wanted to read," Frye said.
On another occasion, Frye said she saw the boy touching Weber's breasts.
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"That was alarming to me," Frye added.
On cross examination, Buchanan County Attorney Shawn Harden asked for details about the alleged incident. Frye recalled the situation was in the gym during a pep rally or presentation for the student body.
Harden asked if Frye was aware the boy got nervous is such settings and was upset by loud noises, including the flush of a toilet. Frye testified she was not aware of those facts.
Harden asked Frye if the boy's insecurity in gym that day might explain the situation.
"I've never seen him do it with anyone else," Frye said.
She testified she did not know if the boy had sexual intent. She also said she was unaware the boy could not identify his own gender.
Spies directed other sharp questions toward Cannon.
"Are you trying to wedge yourself in between (the boy) and his parents?" he asked.
"No," Cannon said.
"Is there any reason on this green earth why you would target (a former student) as a sexual predator?" Spies followed later.
"No," she said.
"Were the writings (the boy's) doing?" Spies asked.
"Yes," Cannon testified.
Spies came back to the theme later.
"To be clear, were you writing what you wanted to write, or was (the boy) writing what he was wanting to write?" Spies asked.
Cannon testified the writings conveyed the boy's thoughts and answers.
According to Frye, the boy also performed "hand over hand" writing with her. On cross examination, though, Frye conceded the boy's answers were primarily yes and no and his oral statements were at most "probably about three or four words."
Frye also explained the role of a mandatory reporter when allegations of physical or sexual abuse surface.
"Whether you believe it or not, you report it," Frye said.
Spies asked where Frye's allegiance fell as the situation developed.
"As a counselor, my allegiance is to the student," she said.
"I wasn't concerned about Fayla. I was concerned about (the boy,)" Frye added.
A passage in the writings, which Spies displayed for jurors, suggested Cannon had a conversation with the boy about the authenticity of the writings.
"They don't believe that you wrote it," Cannon wrote.
"I did," the boy allegedly responded.
"I know that," Cannon wrote.
"I don't know why they don't believe you," the boy allegedly added.
Spies inquired about Cannon's motivation, whether she felt giving the boy "a voice" was important.
"Absolutely," Cannon said.
"That's his voice. I thought he needed his voice," Cannon testified later.