Friday, January 12, 2007
By Barton Deiters
The Grand Rapids Press
GRAND RAPIDS -- Suspended music teacher Ronald Taylor Jr. watched as one young boy after another took the stand and testified that Taylor molested them.
The 38-year-old Grand Rapids Public Schools employee was ordered Thursday to stand trial in Kent County Circuit Court on charges of second-degree criminal sexual conduct for a series of alleged fondling incidents that involved nine boys ages 5 to 10.
Taylor was bound over to the higher court on cases involving eight of the boys; he was bound over last week on the ninth victim's case.
The last three youths to speak took the stand Thursday before Grand Rapids District Judge Benjamin Logan and testified against Taylor with varying degrees of certainty, and with many contradictions between previous statements to police and their testimony in the witness chair.
Defense attorney Fil Iorio said his client is the victim of overzealous school officials, media hype and hysterical family members.
"Nearly all the statements have been inherently inconsistent," Iorio said. He argued to have all charges thrown out based on the inconsistent testimony and the fact that the alleged victims were related or close friends, and that the boys had discussed the event with each other, numerous relatives and others.
He also questioned the competency of the children who testified and their ability to tell truth from fiction and, in one case, even to identify their alleged assailant in the courtroom.
Kent County Assistant Prosecutor Kevin Bramble said the number of children who have come forward and other factors more than met the threshold for the case to be sent to Circuit Court. Logan agreed.
A 9-year-old faced numerous questions from Iorio and contradicted himself several times about when and where the alleged incidents took place and with whom he discussed them. He claimed at one point to have punched Taylor in the face when the man approached him.
A 7-year-old answered most questions with "I don't know" and said he "forgets things when I sleep."
But both boys were clear that Taylor had touched them on their private parts.
A 6-year-old's testimony was unshakable as he consistently provided a sometimes indignant account of what he says happened to him at the hands of the teacher. The scowling kindergartener said Taylor touched him in a music room at Buchanan Elementary School.
In two days of testimony, other boys said they were touched at school, church, Taylor's home, Taylor's parents' home, a birthday party and the Zap Zone Laser Tag Center on 28th Street SW in Wyoming.
Iorio has asked the school district for disciplinary and attendance records for the boys, a request the district is fighting. School attorney Linda Rittersdorf said the request violates student privacy laws and that any request for file information has to be approved by the Circuit Court judge. Logan ruled in her favor.
Each of the 14 counts against Taylor is a 15-year felony. He remains in the Kent County Jail on $225,000 bond.
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