K-12 Education

Marion teacher's trial to be moved

Judge rules for venue outside Linn County on charges of failing to report sex abuse in classroom

Marion’s Starry Elementary School. (file photo)
Marion’s Starry Elementary School. (file photo)

A judge ruled last week to move the trial of a Marion teacher, accused of failing to report sex abuse of children in her classroom, to another county based on extensive pretrial publicity involving this case, another criminal case and lawsuits filed against the teacher and the Marion Independent School District.

Sixth Judicial Associate District Judge Casey Jones granted the change of venue Thursday for the case of Diane Graham, 59, who is charged with failure to report as a mandatory reporter, a simple misdemeanor. The criminal complaint alleges that two Starry Elementary school children in Graham’s class, on two occasions, told Graham about incidents involving 15-year-old Logan McMurrin, a classroom volunteer in 2016.

Graham, who is on administrative leave, failed to report the children’s disclosures to law enforcement or to the Department of Human Services personnel, according to the complaint.

As a teacher, Graham was a mandatory reporter of child abuse under Iowa law that requires any licensed school employee to report abuse against a child younger than 12 within 24 hours.

McMurrin, now 16, was convicted in Linn County Juvenile Court of three counts of second-degree sexual abuse against a 5-year-old and two 6-year-old girls. He was sentenced to the Iowa State Training School for Boys in Eldora and will remain there at least until he is 18.

Mark Brown, Graham's lawyer, in his change-of-venue motion, argued Graham could not have a fair and impartial trial in Linn because of prejudice caused by news stories about the sex abuse allegations and the pending lawsuits. The news reports have "tainted" the jury pool in Linn and "sabotaged" the "defendant's good name," he added.  

In his ruling, Jones said the pretrial publicity from the conviction of McMurrin, the pending lawsuits and new allegations of additional sex abuse at the school has resulted in prejudice against Graham and prevents her from receiving a fair and impartial trial in Linn County.

“The charges and stories (news articles) about them (McMurrin and Graham) have become intertwined and continue to generate new stories,” Jones said in the ruling. “Added to this is news coverage of civil suits filed by parents against the school, and stories of tight-lipped school board members who are portrayed as unwilling or unable to talk about the abuse.”

Taken together, Jones said the press coverage has been “extremely pervasive.” Graham’s attorney didn’t offer any proof of actual prejudice, but did offer substantial proof there has been “publicity” surrounding this trial that is “so pervasive and inflammatory that prejudice must be presumed.”

Jones will reschedule the trial for another county after hearing from the prosecutor and defense.   

Graham and the Marion Independent School District face four separate lawsuits filed in February by eight parents, claiming their children were subjected to sexual abuse and psychological and emotional injuries and pain.

This month, the Marion Police Department said it was investigating new claims of abuse that occurred in a classroom at Starry Elementary.

According to a news release, the abuse took place in the 2015-2016 school year, which would indicate the allegations are separate from those involving the three girls whom McMurrin sexually assaulted. Police officials said they would not comment on the current allegations, including whether they are related to the McMurrin case.

Police will be contacting parents of children who might have been “at risk of abuse,” according to the news release.

In a statement, the Marion Independent School District Board of Education said the district learned of the allegations May 26 and will cooperate fully with the investigation.

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

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