BREAKING NEWS: Split verdict reached for ex-Montrose teacher

BY STACI WILSON and PAT FARNELLI

A former Montrose Area school teacher was found not guilty on all charges related to allegedly having an affair with a ninth grade student back in 2007, but was found guilty on three counts of intercepting communications without another’s knowledge.

Jeffrey Norris smiled and was later embraced by his mother, sister and a family friend following the verdict.

His attorney, Paul Ackourey, said he believed the jurors “were able to discern who was telling the truth.”

The jurors went into deliberation around 3:45 p.m. and emerged four hours later with the verdict.

The day’s trial started with Norris taking the stand in his own defense and essentially refuting testimony given Tuesday by his friend, Curtis Kiehl, as well as the alleged victim.

Both Kiehl and the woman, now age 20, had testified that they had ingested cocaine with Norris and another teen during an all-night softball tournament in South Montrose in June 2007. The accuser alleged she also had sex with Norris at the tournament.

Prosecutor John Flannery asked Norris if he thought Kiehl was lying part of a “conspiracy” to get him.

“He is lying,” Norris said. “I think he was real scared.”

On the stand Wednesday, the victim’s teen friend said that, although she drove the victim to the tournament, she never saw the girl with Norris.

She also said she and the victim never did drugs with Norris and Kiehl.

Norris said he saw the two girls at the tournament but that he had no contact with her there that night.

Norris said the girl had never been at his home and denied ever having sex with her.

The woman had earlier testified that she went to his house on two occasions and that they engaged in intercourse.

Also facing three counts of wiretapping for secretly taping conversation with school administrators, Norris explained to the jury his reasons for making the recordings.

Norris said that the school administrators had asked to meet with him on those three occasions regarding issues he believed could affect his employment in a negative way.

According to testimony, per the teachers’ union contract, written notice needed to be given for a meeting that could impact employment.

Norris said he was not given notice of the meetings and was not provided with the opportunity to call in a union representative to witness the meetings.

“I wanted to protect myself,” he said.

The trial recessed for lunch and resumed Thursday at about 1:30 p.m., with closing arguments from defense attorney Paul Ackourey and deputy prosecutor John Flannery of the state attorney general’s office, wrapping up with Presiding Judge Raymond Hamill’s instructions to the jury.

Ackourey complimented the jury members on their attention to the proceedings and said that the defendant does not have to prove his innocence, and that the burden of proof rests squarely on the shoulders of the prosecutor.

“The testimony paints a picture of an obsessed young woman,” Ackourey said.

First, her MySpace account was investigated by a school official, who searched for photos of her and Mr. Norris together. “They were not there,” he said.

“In 2007 (the alleged victim) was questioned, and she denied a sexual relationship existed. Mr. Norris was asked….and he denied it had happened. He was told to stay away from the victim, and he did,” Ackourey said.

He added that the victim became angry when his client ignored her, and made more than 120 calls to Norris using a cell phone registered to her mother.  “There is no evidence that (Norris) ever called her back.”

He said that the victim was unhappy at Montrose High School because of rumors, “rumors that she had started, and when she was transferred to the alternative program Bethesda, she was not happy there, either.”

Ackourey said that Norris recorded conversations in meetings with Montrose High School administrators because he was worried about his job, and was concerned that he did not get a written notice or have a union representative present at them.

Flannery then addressed the jurors: “You heard the defendant on the stand: it is all a conspiracy.”

He said that Norris wants the jury to believe that two teachers two troopers, a former vice principal, principal and superintendent all conspired against him, “and masterminding it all is the victim, who was 14 years old. Who’s on trial?”

He referred to Norris as “this Bucknell graduate,” and asked if anything that Norris has to say makes sense. “You would have to believe that everyone got together and hatched this plot against him.”

He also commented on the way that the Montrose Area School District administrators handled the allegations.

“Someone could have picked up the phone and called Childline, Children and Youth, the State Police…but they chose to do it the way they did,” Flannery said.

He summed up the case by saying, “She thought he was her boyfriend, and was breaking up with her, and had been seduced by him on top of that. She had had sexual relations with him at his house before the investigation happened.”

The Judge then instructed the jurors, saying that the speeches of counsel are not evidence and that they should not consider them as such.

“You should be guided by each lawyer’s arguments only to the extent that they are based upon evidence. You should not decide based upon which side presents the most evidence, or has the most witnesses.”

The judge instructed the jurors how to consider and weigh the evidence presented. He said that jurors could each decide to believe all, part, or none of each witness’ testimony.

He then went through the elements of each offense: statutory sexual assault, indecent contact, corruption of a minor by either sexual contact or providing marijuana or cocaine; intercepting communications without the person’s knowledge; intimidation of victim, retaliation against victim; stalking;  three counts of sexual assault, in the living room, kitchen, and on the ball field.

When they returned, the lone word ‘guilty’ was only used for three counts of intercepting communications without the person’s knowledge.

The wiretapping charges carry a maximum sentence of seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine for each count.

Following the verdict, Flannery asked that Norris’ bail be revoked.

Judge Hamill denied the request.

Ackourey said he would likely appeal the wiretapping conviction.

No sentencing date has been set.