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Former Santo Niño art teacher takes stand in molestation case

October 27, 2018 GMT

Former elementary school art teacher Aaron Dean Chavez took the stand Thursday in his own defense in his trial on child molestation charges, telling jurors he didn’t inappropriately touch any of the three students who made allegations against him.

A former teacher at Santo Niño Regional Catholic School, Chavez is charged with having criminal sexual contact with the three students between 2007 and 2016. He’s accused of touching the buttocks of two of the students over their clothes and touching the genital area of another girl, who was 6 at the time, while he was tucking in her shirt.

In the second week of his trial in state District Court in Santa Fe, Chavez, 50, testified that when he noticed the child’s shirt was untucked, he told her twice to tuck it in — as per school policy — but she didn’t. After he realized her hands were covered in pastels she was using for an art project, he said, he tucked it in himself.

“I just spontaneously and instinctively went over and tucked in her shirt,” Chavez said.

He knew the action was against school policy, he said, adding he should have told the principal. But he said the action was “not sexual.”

Addressing another instance, in which an 8-year-old girl told her mother Chavez had run his hands over her hair, down to her buttocks and then up between her thighs, Chavez said he remembered touching the girl’s hair during a class segment on self-portraits when he was discussing the different types of lines used to illustrate different kinds of hair.

He denied touching the girl on any other part of her body, however.

Chavez said police officers asked him during an interview about the allegations if he would be willing to take a polygraph test, and he said he would, but he was never given one.

Clinical psychologist Dr. Samuel Roll also testified for the defense Thursday, telling jurors he noticed as he was reviewing footage and investigative documents in the case that in several instances, adults interviewing the children violated best practices for conducting such interviews.

For example, he said, an interviewer in one instance continued to ask a child the same question repeatedly, which can cause a child to change answers in order to please the interviewer.

In another instance, the doctor said, a child had been told by her parents she would be given dolls by the interviewers, something he said contaminates all of that child’s testimony; children who believe they will get something of value from an interviewer act differently than they would without such a promise, he said.

One interviewer was overly suggestive with a child in the way she presented a drawing of a body for the child to indicate where she had been touched, Roll said, explaining the interviewer had circled the genital area on the drawing before asking the child to point out where in that area she was touched.

In another instance, he said, it was clear that the child had heard from other students about Chavez possibly being “too friendly” or odd in some way, something he said results in what he called “contagion.” He likened this to “gossip.”

Roll said the way the interviews were conducted “increased the probability of false reporting.”

Following Roll’s testimony, Chavez’s defense attorney, John F. Samore, rested his case.

Asked by the judge if she had any rebuttal, Assistant District Attorney Larissa Breen responded by playing a recording of the children’s interviews.

The audio was not clear, however, and one of the jurors asked if they could have a transcript of the interviews in the jury room in case they wanted to watch the video again during deliberations.

District Judge T. Glenn Ellington said that jurors could not have transcripts of the recording because the interviews themselves, not transcripts, were the evidence admitted into the trial.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys are expected to give their closing arguments in the case Friday morning before jurors begin deliberating.