Jury sequestered in trial for Two Harbors bus driver
A St. Louis County jury had two strong opposing arguments to consider and spent nearly 11 hours deliberating Tuesday without being able to determine the fate of Jimmy James, the former school bus driver accused of sexually molesting five pre-teen girls on his bus.
James, 63, of Two Harbors is charged with five counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct for allegedly molesting five students between the ages of 6 and 10.
In an impassioned closing argument, St. Louis County prosecutor Nathaniel Stumme rhetorically asked jurors:
"What motivated all of these children to summon the breathtaking courage to walk into this courtroom, right past their bus driver and sit in that chair and through tears and almost overwhelming fear look at him and say in his presence that he did these things? What motivated all of these children was, of course, the truth, the inescapable, undeniable, unforgettable, unimaginable, but quite simple truth."
Defense attorney Joanna Wiegert took the floor and reminded jurors in her summation that seven members - from all walks of life -- of the Two Harbors community, where James has lived for 40 years testified in his behalf. They said he is a man of good character, who has helped others, and they never saw him act inappropriately towards children. The witnesses said they would feel comfortable with him around their children and grandchildren.
James, married for 42 years, the father of three and grandfather of seven, drove a school bus and worked as a school custodian for more than 38 years. He has no criminal record.
"You don't wake up at 63 years old in March of 2010 and say, 'I think today I'll be a pedophile.' It doesn't happen," Wiegert told jurors.
Twice during their deliberations, jurors informed Judge David Johnson that they wanted to return to the courtroom -- at 4:30 p.m. and 8:15 p.m. -- to review videotaped interviews that the alleged victims gave at First Witness Child Abuse Resource Center in which they alleged that James touched them, or a relative, inappropriately.
Johnson ended the jurors' 13-hour work day when he sent them to a Duluth hotel at 9:45 p.m. They will resume deliberations at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.
James didn't waver when he testified Monday that he never intentionally or knowingly touched any girl inappropriately. He said he sometimes hugged them and said good night and he sometimes held them around the waist so they wouldn't fall when they were standing near the stairwell of the bus he drove for the North Shore Community School.
No adults testified that they ever saw James touch children in a sexual manner.
"This case is about justice for children,'' Stumme told jurors. "And the children are saying there can be justice for children even when you rely on just us children."
Wiegert argued that the children's version of events were inconsistent and couldn't be corroborated. She pointed out inconsistencies in the timeline of events presented by children. Stumme countered that children couldn't be expected to remember precise timelines.
The allegations that James had sexual contact with girls on his North Shore Community School bus were made in March and April of last year.
Testimony revealed that James allowed kids to sign up for the privilege of opening the door to the bus when it came to a stop to unload students. He's accused of using that opportunity to touch girls in a sexual manner.
According to the instructions of law that Johnson read to jurors, the elements of criminal sexual conduct in the second degree are:
- The defendant intentionally touched the alleged victims' intimate parts or the clothing over the immediate area of their intimate parts, or caused the touching of their intimate parts or the clothing over the immediate area of their intimate parts. The "intimate parts'' of the body include the genital area, groin, inner thigh, buttocks, and breast.
- The defendant's alleged act was committed with sexual or aggressive intent.
- At the time of the alleged act, the girls had not reached their 13th birthdays.
- The defendant was more than 36 months older that the alleged victims.
- The alleged acts took place between Dec. 1, 2009 and March 18, 2010, in St. Louis County or Lake County.
If jurors find that each of those elements were proven beyond a reasonable doubt, the defendant is guilty. If they find that any single element has not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt, the defendant is not guilty.