SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Court of Appeals upheld a conviction Thursday of a Draper bus driver accused of sexually abusing two special needs students he drove to school.
A jury in July 2015 found John Carrell, now 65, guilty of 19 charges of aggravated sexual abuse of a child, a first-degree felony. He was acquitted of 14 additional counts. He was later sentenced to 19 concurrent terms of 15 years to life in prison.
Carrell appealed his conviction, arguing that jurors received improper instructions when they were told to consider whether Carrell took "indecent liberties" with the children, especially considering how often his hands were blocked from view in the security footage.
He also maintained, as he did at trial, that there was not sufficient evidence to convict him.
In a decision handed down Thursday, the court of appeals called Carrell's argument "unpersuasive."
Carrell drove a bus for special needs children to Altara Elementary School, 800 E. 11000 South, in Draper. According to prosecutors, when Carrell arrived at the school he would unbuckle the students' harness-like seat belts, contrary to district policy.
Surveillance cameras recorded as Carrell lingered over the restraints of two 5-year-old girls on two of his bus routes, then brought them up to the front of the bus to stand close to him or sit on his lap until their teachers neared, when he would push the girls away from him.
An investigation into Carrell began when one of the girls made a troubling statement to her father about sitting on the bus driver's lap and suggesting he was touching her inappropriately. The girl testified at trial that Carrell would touch her inappropriately "every day" as he unbuckled her seat belt and as they waited for a teacher to come get her.
Carrell testified during the trial that he was as affectionate with the students as he would be with his own grandchildren, but he insisted he never touched the children inappropriately.1 comment on this story
In its decision, the appeals court concluded that the instructions given to the jurors was appropriate and was supported by the evidence presented during the jury trial.
The appellate court also determined that while the young girl's testimony alone may not have been sufficient to convict Carrell, the combination of evidence was.
"That testimony, coupled with the other evidence introduced in the case, including the video evidence, was sufficient to support the jury's verdict," the decision states.