Public Safety

Children testify they were abused in Marion kindergarten teacher's classroom

Diane Graham's trial continues in Tama County

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

TOLEDO — Two six-year-olds testified Tuesday that they told their parents and teacher, Diane Graham, that a 15-year-old classroom volunteer “hurt” them during “rest time” in 2016, while both were kindergartners at Starry Elementary in Marion.

S.L., as she is referred to in court documents and who is now a first-grader, said the volunteer, Logan McMurrin, hurt her or was “doing something” that she didn’t like while he was working with her one on one during rest time, which is after lunch.

During that time, the lights are turned off and the students are to nap or just “snuggle” with a stuffed animal while lying on towels on the floor.

The girl explained this also is the time Graham and McMurrin worked individually with the students.

S.L. said she told Graham what McMurrin was doing and Graham told her, “He wouldn’t do that. He’s a good boy.”

Graham is on trial this week in Tama County Associate District Court for failing to report sexual abuse as a mandatory reporter, a simple misdemeanor.

A complaint shows two students in her class, on two occasions, told Graham about incidents involving the volunteer, McMurrin, a 15-year-old at the time.

Graham, who now is on administrative leave, failed to report the children’s disclosures to law enforcement or the Iowa Department of Human Services, according to the criminal complaint. As a teacher, she is a mandatory reporter and required to report abuse against a child younger than 12 within 24 hours.

McMurrin, now 16, later was convicted in Linn County Juvenile Court on 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.

The state rested Tuesday afternoon and the defense will begin its case at 9 a.m. Wednesday. The trial could wrap up Thursday.

H.S., also six years old and now a first-grader, also testified Tuesday that McMurrin touched her inappropriately during a rest time in 2016. But she was more hesitant to answer questions as she played with a “squishy.”

She admitted to being nervous and scared.

H.S. said she told Graham that McMurrin touched her “where he wasn’t supposed to.” She told Graham about it twice, she said.

S.L. gave a few more details of the sexual abuse during a St. Luke’s Child Protection Center’s videotaped interview that was played for the jurors later on Tuesday.

The parents of the two girls, as well as other parents and friends, attended the trial on Tuesday.

The mother of S.L. testified her daughter didn’t tell her about the sexual abuse until Oct. 21, 2016. The incident occurred between August and October, according to court documents.

Details came out when S.L. told her there was a going-away party for McMurrin that day and she was glad he wasn’t coming back.

This was the first time the mother had heard of McMurrin, she said. She wasn’t aware there were volunteers in the classrooms.

S.L. told her mother that McMurrin “tickled” her and she didn’t like it. She also told her mother that McMurrin had done it to other girls in her class.

The mother said she then sent an email to Graham on Oct. 24 and told her what her daughter.

Graham, in a reply email, thanked the mother and said she would let someone know.

The mother said the Marion High School principal contacted her shortly after this and then the school officials contacted the Marion police.

Both S.L. and H.S. transferred to another school in the Marion system that same after the abuse incidents, according to testimony.

Sara Sievers, a kindergartner teacher at Starry Elementary who shared a classroom with Graham in 2016, testified McMurrin was in her classroom as a volunteer in January 2016 but only for a week.

She had concerns about his behavior, she said. He wanted to interact with the children more than help the teacher with duties he was assigned to complete.

Sievers said in one incident she found McMurrin picking up a girl and putting her on his hip. She had to tell McMurrin to put her down.

He also seemed to form a close relationship with one child in that short time.

Sievers said she told Graham, along with some other teachers, about McMurrin’s behavior, but admitted that she wasn’t specific about McMurrin’s interactions with children when she asked for him to be removed.

She said she found his actions more odd and irresponsible than a concern about sexual abuse.

If Graham is convicted, she faces up to a $625 fine or up to 30 days in jail.

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

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