WEST JORDAN — A defense attorney for a former Canyons School District bus driver accused of sexually abusing two young girls with special needs argued Thursday that the driver had no other choice than to "nuzzle" a young child on his route.
"What is he supposed to do if a little girl comes to him and sits by him? What is his obligation?" attorney Ron Yengich asked the court. He said there is "no evidence of emotional pain or physical injury" to the children.
Yengich asked 3rd District Court Judge Bruce Lubeck to dismiss all counts against John Martin Carrell, who is charged with 23 first-degree felony counts of aggravated sexual abuse of one child and 11 counts involving another child, both of whom are assigned to specific bus routes for children with special needs.
On Wednesday, prosecutors presented several hours of video taken from multiple surveillance cameras on board school bus No. 250, which Carrell had driven since February. Carrell, 61, was employed by the district starting in 2009.
The video shows Carrell taking more time with buckling and unbuckling the seat belt of a 5-year-old autistic girl than with other children on the bus. He also allows the girl to stand between his legs for several minutes before teachers arrive to take her and the other children to class.
Prosecutors also point out at least eight instances where Carrell licks his fingers prior to touching the little girl or immediately following an interaction with her.
Carrell's hands aren't always visible in the video, but "there is no other reason for him to take these actions," prosecuting attorney Nathan Evershed said. "There is no other explanation for his actions. The only intent is to arouse or gratify himself."
Evershed said the seat belts on the bus are "not complicated," as evidenced in the seconds it takes for Carrell to unbuckle other students. At one point, the child can be heard saying to Carrell, "You're pulling my pants (up) or (off)," Evershed said.
Yengich argues that Carrell can be seen rubbing his nose or eyes and not indulging in inappropriate behavior. He said there is consistency in Carrell's behavior.
"We literally have, in this case, Groundhog Day, every day," Yengich said, adding there is no evidence of "indecent liberties" being taken.
District officials told the court during the first day of a preliminary hearing for Carrell on Wednesday that the district has a strict no-contact rule for employees and students.
"Violation of school policy is not a violation of criminal statute," Yengich said. "The mere touching of a child, the hugging of a child, embracing a child, shaking hands with a child and moving a child's hand around is not a crime."
Despite clear time stamps of specific offenses tied to the charges provided to 3rd District Court Judge Bruce Lubeck, he opted to review all surveillance video submitted as evidence before making a decision to continue with a trial.
Lubeck called the case "unusual" because actions might not be as clear on video as the state's and/or defense attorney's interpretation of it in court.
"I do feel a need to watch these again, and perhaps again, and again. I don't know," Lubeck said.
The judge didn't address the issue of bail, as requested by Yengich, on Thursday.
Kevin Robson, an attorney for one of the victims' families, said they are mostly concerned about the best interests of the victim and are only observers in the prosecution portion of things.
"There's a lot of video," Robson said. "I think it is appropriate for the judge to take whatever time he needs."
The family of both victims and of the defendant declined to comment Thursday, though Carrell's daughter cried and shook her head throughout periods of the arguments.
Carrell will remain in custody at the Salt Lake County Jail until Lubeck makes a decision whether the case will go to trial, which, he said, will be presented at 1:30 p.m. Aug. 11.
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