UPDATE: David Koon reports a Pulaski County circuit court jury has convicted a former Mount St. Mary Academy counselor of failure to report a sexual relationship between a student and another teacher who was a partner of the counselor.
After further deliberation, the jury handed down a sentence of one year on probation and a $2,500 fine.
Earlier today, on the second day of the trial, the state completed its case against Kathy Griffin, a former Mount St. Mary Academy counselor, for failure to report sexual abuse of a student by her live-in partner and fellow Mount St. Mary teacher Kelly O’Rourke.
O’Rourke entered a negotiated plea to the charge and will be re-sentenced for violating terms of the deal by continuing to attempt to contact the girl from jail. Griffin reported the abuse, after some delay, to the Mount St. Mary principal. She and O’Rourke were fired. Griffin pleaded innocent. She contended she didn’t know of the sexual relationship between the teacher and student until after the girl had turned 18 and was no longer a student at St. Mary.
David reports on final testimony:
Principal Diane Wolfe said that two weeks before she called the State Police child abuse hotline, the victim’s mother came to her office very distraught. She said the victim wouldn’t get out of bed, was crying all the time, and wouldn’t go to her college classes. Wolfe referred victim’s mother to a therapist for victim. Mother didn’t mention sexual abuse. Wolfe testified that it was Kathy Griffin who first told her of the sexual abuse later, with Griffin saying she’d heard it from the parents.
After the jury was dismissed for a break, defense attorney Jeff Rosenzweig made an argument for directed verdict, saying that Griffin wasn’t required to report the abuse as a mandated reporter because the victim was over 18. Rosenzweig said that if that was the law, a doctor would be required to report the childhood abuse of an elderly patient if that information was shared with the doctor. The prosecution responded that the evidence shows Griffin knew of the relationship between Kelly O’Rourke and the victim before the victim turned 18, with Griffin “knowingly failing to notify the hotline.” Judge Barry Sims denied Rosenzweig’s motion for directed verdict.
The defense presented no witnesses.
In closing arguments, the prosecution said that “mandated reporters” are required to immediately report suspicions or knowledge of child abuse, but Griffin had tried to keep this case under wraps by telling parents that it would harm the school and “lose” their daughter if information about the relationship came out. Deputy Prosecutor Jeanna Sherrill depicted this as an attempt to manipulate parents.
She reminded the jury that O’Rourke testified that Griffin had asked if she was having a relationship with the victim up to six months before victim told her parents. When Griffin initially reported to the child abuse hotline, it was anonymously, and only after the victim’s parents said they planned to report the abuse. Griffin put the other children at Mount St. Mary’s at risk, Sherrill said, by not reporting her suspicions, and by trying to convince the victims parents to not report the abuse so that O’Rourke could finish out the school year, resign and “slip away, into the dark.”
In defense closing, Jeff Rosenzweig said that prosecutors are seeking to “scapegoat” Griffin. He argued that she reported the abuse once she knew about it, but “just not fast enough for these people.” He pointed out that by the time O’Rourke confessed the abuse to Griffin, the victim was no longer a child. He called it “absurd” that Griffin should have called the abuse hotline based solely on her unsupported suspicions when the victim was still a minor, especially given that O’Rourke denied it.
Rosenzweig told the jury even the victim didn’t want information about the abuse revealed. “They were dealing with an adult who was very clear: ‘I don’t want anyone to know.’ “
In rebuttal, the prosecution said Griffin had tried to manipulate and coerce the family not to report, finally asking the victim’s family to look at it as “a bad breakup.”
“The only reason Kathy Griffin called [the child abuse hotline] on March 11 is that her attempted cover up — and that’s what this is — had failed,” Deputy Prosecutor Terry Ball said.