Judge will allow taped interviews of child sex abuse victims at trial of Marion teacher accused of failing to report abuse

Tama County trial of Diane Graham to be reset

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CEDAR RAPIDS — A judge will allow the videotaped interviews of three children, who were sexually abused by a 15-year-old boy, to be played during the trial of a Marion teacher charged with failing to report the abuse.

Sixth Judicial Associate District Judge Casey Jones said Thursday during a hearing that he will allow the prosecution to play the St. Luke’s Child Protection Center interviews of two 5-year-old girls and one 6-year-old girl during teacher Diane Graham’s trial, as long as the girls also testify in person.

Graham, 59, a Starry Elementary School teacher, is charged with failing to report child sex abuse as a mandatory reporter, a simple misdemeanor.

A criminal complaint states two Starry Elementary school children in Graham’s class, on two occasions, told Graham about incidents involving Logan McMurrin, who was 15 at the time, 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 is a mandatory reporter of child abuse according to Iowa law that requires any licensed school employee to report abuse against a child younger than age 12 within 24 hours.

Her trial was set to start Nov. 6 in Tama County, moved out of Linn County based on pretrial publicity, but Jones learned during Thursday’s hearing that Tama County District Court has a murder trial that same week and cannot accommodate two trials.

Graham’s trial, being a simple misdemeanor, will be reset. No new date has been set.

Assistant Linn County Attorney Andrew Powers argued he wanted to play the tapes at trial because the interviews were conducted in late October of last year, closer to the time the girls were sexually abused.

Powers said the girls, in the interviews, make statements, saying they told Graham of the abuse by McMurrin that happened in her classroom.

McMurrin was convicted earlier this year in Linn County Juvenile Court of sexually abusing the three children.

Mark Brown, Graham’s lawyer, argued that he couldn’t cross examine a tape and that having taped interviews of witnesses violated Graham’s right to confront her accusers at trial.

Powers said according to case law the tapes would be admissible because the girls also will testify and Brown can cross-examine them. The forensic interviewer with the Child Protection Center also will testify.

Jones said he will review the taped interviews before trial, as a precaution to ensure protocols were followed and the requirements of law were met.

Jones also ruled one of Brown’s expert witnesses could testify at trial, as long as she testified in general terms regarding concerns over protocols of the Child Protection Center, which allows law enforcement officers to ask questions of alleged victims through an interviewer, and about how memories can be affected.

The expert cannot offer comments about these specific witnesses in this case or comment about their credibility, Jones said.

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.

Court documents show three of the lawsuits have settled out of court and one remains pending trial. There are no details on the settlements.

If convicted, Graham 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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