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Jones v. United States

March 18, 2010

JOHN JONES, APPELLANT,
v.
UNITED STATES, APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. (F-2851-03) (Hon. Ann O'Regan Keary, Trial Judge)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Glickman, Associate Judge

Argued April 29, 2008

Before GLICKMAN and BLACKBURNE-RIGSBY, Associate Judges, and ROSS, Associate Judge, Superior Court of the District of Columbia.*fn1

Appellant Jones stands convicted of misdemeanor sexual abuse and simple assault. The victims of these offenses were two students at the high school where Jones was a counselor and teacher. Jones claims the trial judge committed reversible error in admitting expert testimony explaining the methods of child sex offenders and the reactions of their immature victims. We disagree and affirm Jones's convictions.

I.

In August of 2003, the grand jury returned a 25-count indictment against appellant, charging him with sex offenses against L.B., K.H., and R.D., three female students at Ballou Senior High School, where appellant had worked as an attendance counselor and stage-crew coordinator. At appellant's first trial, held in early 2004, the court dismissed two of the counts on the government's motion and the jury found appellant not guilty of eight other counts. The jury could not reach a verdict on the remaining fifteen counts. Appellant was retried on those counts in May and June of 2004.

Four of the surviving counts charged appellant with felony offenses against L.B. when she was fifteen years old.*fn2 Seven more counts charged him with misdemeanor sexual abuse of L.B. after she had turned sixteen, the age of consent. L.B. testified at trial that appellant befriended her after she met him in the attendance office at Ballou in her sophomore year. A troubled adolescent with a traumatic family background, L.B. found she could confide in appellant, whom she described as "nice." Appellant listened to L.B. and assured her he would "be there" if she needed him. He bought her new shoes and called himself her "godfather." He told L.B. she was pretty. After a while, L.B. claimed, he began telling her he wanted to have sex with her.

According to L.B., their first sexual encounter occurred in the spring of her sophomore year, when she was fifteen years old. Appellant asked her to come with him to the school auditorium to help him set up some tables on the stage. Once they were there, L.B. claimed, appellant closed the curtain, turned off the lights, grabbed her, and forced her to submit to sexual intercourse against her will. A few months later, after L.B. turned sixteen, appellant began having sex with her on a regular, almost weekly basis. They met for that purpose either at Ballou or in appellant's apartment. L.B. did not resist appellant's advances or report him, she testified, "because at that time I didn't think I had a choice." She feared appellant would access the school computer system to change her grades (an ability he told her he possessed) and she "would fail." In February 2003, however, L.B. contracted genital warts, a sexually transmitted condition. Only then, to a gynecologist who examined her, did L.B. disclose appellant's abuse. At that point the police were notified.

The remaining counts involve appellant's alleged offenses against R.D. (simple assault and enticing a child) and K.H. (assault with intent to commit first-degree sexual abuse and simple assault). R.D. testified that appellant frequently made sexually suggestive comments to her when she was in his stage-crew class in her sophomore year. One morning, she testified, appellant approached her before class, made a sexual remark, and kissed her without warning on her lips. (This was the basis for the assault charge.) On another occasion, R.D. claimed, she was in the attendance office and appellant locked the door, turned off the lights, and proposed taking her to a hotel "and other stuff." (This was the basis for the enticing count.) The charges involving K.H. related to an incident in her junior year in which appellant allegedly put his hand under her skirt and kissed her on the neck while she was trying to use the telephone in the school security office. K.H. reported the assault later that day. She testified that she was reluctant to do so because appellant had told her he could change students' grades and she was afraid he would change hers.

The government called two significant witnesses at appellant's second trial whom it had not presented at his first trial. One of those witnesses was S.B., who testified that appellant raped her in 1992 when she was living in foster care with the grandmother of his son.*fn3 This testimony was admitted, with a limiting instruction, to show that appellant had a particular preference for sexual relations with teenage girls.*fn4 The other new witness was Kenneth Lanning, a former special agent in the Behavioral Science Unit of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Qualified by the court as an expert on the sexual victimization of children, Lanning testified about the methods employed by preferential child molesters and the behavior of their victims. Lanning professed no knowledge about the facts of appellant's case and expressed no opinion on appellant's guilt or the credibility of his accusers. We shall describe Lanning's testimony in greater detail below.

Appellant's defense was that the three teenaged complainants had fabricated their allegations against him. The defense focused in large part on their motives to lie about him, their delay in reporting his abuse, and the inconsistencies in their accounts. Appellant also presented evidence that he and L.B. had enjoyed a close, friendly relationship. Among other things, appellant's wife testified that L.B. regularly visited them at their home. On cross-examination L.B. acknowledged that she continued to call appellant after he left Ballou, and that she sent him a school picture on which she had written "to my godfather and godmother" and "love you." L.B. also admitted that her grades were poor and that appellant had never threatened explicitly to change them.

At the close of the government's case, the judge granted appellant's motion for judgment of acquittal on the charge of second-degree child sexual abuse (involving L.B.). The jury acquitted appellant of the remaining felony charges and of the charge of simple assault relating to K.H. It convicted appellant on the seven counts of misdemeanor sexual abuse of L.B. and on the count of simple assault against R.D. Subsequently, with the government's agreement, the judge vacated appellant's convictions on three of the misdemeanor sexual abuse counts on merger grounds.*fn5

Thus, at the end of the day, appellant stood convicted of four counts of misdemeanor sexual abuse and ...


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