Diane Graham testifies two kindergartners didn’t tell her a 15-year-old classroom volunteer sexually abused them

Jan 10, 2018 at 4:18 pm | Print View

TOLEDO — A Starry Elementary teacher, charged with not reporting sexual abuse of two kindergartners in her classroom back in 2016, testified Wednesday during her Tama County trial that the girls didn’t report any kind of abuse to her.

Diane Graham, 59, of Cedar Rapids, admitted to being a mandatory reporter as a licensed teacher, and “If I hear or see sexual abuse, I can report it.”

“If you don’t see or hear it, you can’t report it,” Graham, who has been a teacher for 30 years, said.

Graham said she could report to school administration, if she didn’t see or hear, which she did.

Graham, who has taught at Starry Elementary for 17 years, is charged with failing to report sexual abuse as a mandatory reporter, a simple misdemeanor.

Two 6-year-olds testified Tuesday that they were sexually abused by Graham’s classroom volunteer, Logan McMurrin, 15 at the time, in 2016. Both girls, who were 5-years-old when the abuse happened, said they told Graham of the abuse.  

A criminal complaint shows the incidents occurred between Aug. 26 and Oct. 24, 2016 in the classroom.

Graham, who now is on administrative leave, failed to report the children’s disclosures to law enforcement or the Iowa Department of Human Services, a complaint shows. 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 defense started its case today with a few character witnesses and then Graham testified. The defense rested and closing arguments will be 9 a.m. Thursday, barring any delays regarding the predicted snowy conditions in the Tama County area.   

Graham testified the children didn’t tell her, as they claimed, and the first time she heard of abuse was when the mother of one of the girls emailed her Oct. 24, 2016.

The mother learned of the sexual abuse Oct. 21, 2016, according to testimony.

Graham said she forwarded the email to the Starry Elementary principal, the supervisor of the volunteer program and Marion High School principal. She believed she was following protocol, she said. 

The only incident of a child telling her anything about McMurrin was another little girl, not involved in this case, who said he tickled her on the hand, Graham said. She didn’t see that as sexual. 

Mark Brown, Graham’s lawyer, asked her if she had any problems with the girls who made the sexual abuse allegations.

Graham said she had good relationships with both girls.   

During cross examination, Assistant Linn County Attorney Andrew Powers asked Graham if she was aware of the requirements of the law for mandatory reporter to report to Iowa Department of Human Services and law enforcement.

Graham said the requirement is to report to DHS or police. She said she was following procedure, which is to report to her supervisor — principal.

Powers said the email from the mother said her daughter told her McMurrin tickled her inappropriately. “That’s not proof that anything was going on?”

Graham said no.

Other defense witnesses testified about Graham’s character but only two had any experience at Starry or with Graham as a teacher.  

[The other defense witness, Katherine Jacobs, a clinical psychologist, Farmington Hills, Mich., was privately retained by Graham to give her expert opinion on how the memory of a child can be influenced, depending on how many people they tell about the sexual abuse or how questions are posed by a forensic interviewer.

The girls, who said they were sexually abused on McMurrin were interviewed at the St. Luke’s Child Protection Center, according to testimony Tuesday. The girls talked to school officials before they were interviewed at the center and one of the girls was interviewed twice.

Jacobs said memories are perception, not a recording, and in younger children their memories can be influenced by many factors. The forensic interviewer should ask open-ended questions. She said there is a concern if one interviewer talks to more than one victim in a case because the interviewer can have preconceived notions.

Jacobs admitted she was paid about $6,000 for her time in court and review of court records related to this case. l Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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