Marion teacher acquitted of failing to report sex abuse but future as a teacher remains unclear

Jury deliberated less than two hours

Diane Graham appears during a pretrial hearing at the Linn County Courthouse in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, home Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017. Graham, a Marion teacher is charged with failing to report child sex abuse in her classroom. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Diane Graham appears during a pretrial hearing at the Linn County Courthouse in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, home Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017. Graham, a Marion teacher is charged with failing to report child sex abuse in her classroom. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

TOLEDO — Marion teacher Diane Graham, accused of failing to report child abuse, was acquitted Thursday by a jury but she remains on administrative leave and her status back in the Marion Independence School District classroom is unclear.

The district released a statement following the Tama County verdict that states Graham remains a teacher but the “district is in the process of reviewing Ms. Graham’s status with her.”

“The Marion Independent School respects the legal process and appreciates the jury’s time and attention,” district officials said in a statement. “The District’s goal of providing a safe learning environment for students is and always has been of key importance.”

A Tama County jury reached a not guilty verdict in less than two hours, following a three day trial. Graham, 59, was accused of failing to report sexual abuse as a mandatory reporter, a simple misdemeanor. The two 6-year-old girls, who were 5-years-old when the abused happened, said they were sexually abused in the classroom by 15-year-old volunteer, Logan McMurrin.

The verdict wasn’t read in open court because the prosecution and defense asked for a sealed verdict, which is common in simple misdemeanor cases. It may have been more for convenience because the snowy conditions were worsening Thursday afternoon in Tama County.

Graham, who is on administrative leave from Starry Elementary in Marion, and her lawyers left the courthouse following closing arguments.

Mark Brown, Graham’s lawyer, didn’t return a phone message Thursday.

The Marion Independent School District statement also pointed out that the distict identified and implemented policy changes related to volunteers in the classroom back in December 2016. “The District hopes the community, students, and staff can now close this chapter, continue the healing process and have a positive and healthy future.”

Graham and the Marion Independent School District also were sued last February by eight parents, claiming their children were subjected to sexual abuse and psychological and emotional injuries and pain.

The district settled the lawsuits before trial in November for $1.8 million. The Marion Independent Community School District paid parents of three students $600,000 each to settle three of the lawsuits against Graham and the district.

The fourth lawsuit also has been settled, but details haven’t been finalized, Superintendent Chris Dyer confirmed Thursday.

A criminal complaint shows the sexual abuse incidents occurred between Aug. 26 and Oct. 24, 2016 in Graham’s classroom.

The prosecution argued Graham failed to report the children’s disclosures to law enforcement or the Iowa Department of Human Services.

McMurrin, now 16, was convicted in March of three counts of sexual abuse against two six-year-old girls and a five-year-old girl. Graham’s trial was moved from Linn County to Tama County based on pretrial publicity.

Parents and friends of the two 6-year-old girls were in the courtroom and 6th Judicial Associate District Judge Casey Jones informally let them know the verdict. The parents were tearful and immediately left the building. 

Assistant Linn County Attorney Andrew Powers, who remained in the courtroom, declined to comment.

Earlier in the day during closing arguments, Powers told the jurors this case boiled down to three words “Do your job.”

Powers said the prosecution proved Graham failed to do her job in 2016. Two of her students, now 6-years-old, testified they told their teacher that McMurrin sexually abused them during rest period when he worked one on one with the girls and she did nothing to help them, Powers said.  

One of the girl’s mother then sent an email to Graham when her daughter told her, Powers pointed out. The mother provided details in the email of the abuse. She “didn’t do her job” as a licensed teacher who is a mandatory reporter, he argued.

“You heard that straight from the defendant yesterday,” Powers said. “She didn’t orally report it to DHS or in writing and didn’t contact law enforcement (as required by law).”

Graham told the elementary principal and then it was kicked up the “chain of command.”

Powers also asked the jury to consider the testimony of Sara Sievers, who shared a classroom with her mentor, Graham, at Starry. Sievers said she had concerns about McMurrin’s “odd” behavior when he volunteered for her and she had him removed after a week.

Powers said it made sense that the girls would tell their teacher. “She’s the only adult in the classroom. They looked up to her.” Powers added.  

“Seek the truth and do justice — which means finding the defendant guilty” Powers said.   

Mark Brown, Graham’s lawyer, in his closing agreed with Powers regarding the jury’s duty to follow the law and seek justice. However, that’s the only agreement he made. 

Brown asked the jury to note that nobody from the Marion school district testified to say Graham didn’t do her job. And there were no witnesses to rebut the defense’s expert witness who told the jury how memories of children can be influenced when they have to tell more than one person and how memories change over time.

Brown urged the jury to consider that the girls first talked to mother, then more than one school official before giving their statements in the protection center interviews. Nobody knows what those people asked them or what the girls said, he noted.

“What’s her motivation for not reporting,” Brown said. “She is a veteran teacher who operates a group home for (special needs) children. What would be the motivation to destroy her home and life?”

Brown also asked the jurors to look at how Graham was charged in this case. Look at the timeline. A Marion police officer wanted her arrested in November 2016, but a charge wasn’t filed by the Linn County Attorney’s Office until five months later, after the McMurrin trial. And a prosecutor asked Graham to testified in that trial as a prosecution witness.

Brown asked them not to let the prosecution’s “rotten decisions” influence them and find her not guilty.

l Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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