Ex-bus driver ordered to stand trial on 33 sex abuse charges
Ravell Call, Deseret News
WEST JORDAN — A judge ruled Monday that the question of whether a former Canyons School District bus driver routinely abused two girls on his bus will go before a jury.
Third District Judge Bruce Lubeck ordered John Martin Carrell, 61, to stand trial on 33 counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a child, a first-degree felony, that Carrell is facing in two separate cases. Both cases involve two young girls with special needs.
The judge, however, did dismiss a single count of attempted aggravated sexual abuse of a child, a first-degree felony, Monday.
Prosecutors presented several hours of video taken from surveillance video on the bus, which Carrell began driving in February, during a hearing on the evidence against Carrell in July. Lubeck said he needed time to review the videos before making a decision. He detailed what he saw in each video and how it related to the charges Monday.
"If there was touching, it seems to me that question — unless it's abundantly clear — that's a question for a jury," he said.
The judge said it was very clear that Carrell touched one of the girls on the crotch in several instances between March 12 and April 3. He ordered Carrell to stand trial on 10 counts in that case, but reminded those in the courtroom of the low burden of proof at the preliminary hearing and said the question of the man's intent is an issue to be decided by a jury.
In the second case, where Carrell is facing 23 counts, the judge said he had to rely more on inference from Carrell's behavior than actual touching seen in the videos.
"I didn't see the touchings that the state described, but what one sees about and what one infers about certain conduct is for a jury," Lubeck said. "The state argued that he blocked the view at the seat and I certainly saw (that) in some of those instances."
The judge also questioned why Carrell would sometimes pick up the girl's backpack and place it near his knee, which he said could obstruct the view of the other children on the bus. The videos also showed Carrell taking longer to buckle the girls than the boys on the bus, Lubeck said, and showed several instances where Carrell would place one girl between his legs and "snuggle" her, sometimes stroking her hair.
He said it is unclear what Carrell was doing with his hands while the girl was placed there and what he would do when he would raise his hand to his face after she got off the bus, as Carrell did on numerous occasions.
After the judge bound Carrell over on the 33 counts, defense attorney Ron Yengich asked that the man's bail be reduced from $5 million. He said Carrell has a wife, family and home in the area and no criminal history.
"Mr. Carrell, at his age at the present time, is not likely someone who would run. I could indicate on his behalf that he plans to vigorously defend this. He denies these allegations," Yengich said. "We believe that $5 million bail is unreasonable. We believe no one could make that bail."
Kevin Robson, who represents the alleged victim and her family in one of the cases, asked the judge to consider Carrell's conduct and the seriousness of the charges he is facing.
"What we see in the videos is an obsessive interest in two very young girls who have no ability to defend themselves or speak for themselves as they are special needs kids," he said.
The judge said he weighed both the seriousness of Carrell's crime and his lack of criminal history before he reduced the bail to $250,000 in each case. If Carrell is able to make the total $500,000 bail, the judge said he will need to have an ankle monitor and remain at his home unless he has a doctor's appointment or meeting with his attorney.
"I don't want him out alone," the judge noted, adding that Carrell is to have no contact with any children, including those in his own family.
Robson said the alleged victim's family appreciated those considerations. He said they were also happy with the judge's thorough analysis of the video and his decision.
"It's been tough for them," he said. "The family is dealing with it as best they can."
An arraignment was set for Sept. 9.
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