Primary witnesses in Moser case take the stand
By Trudy Balcom
Editor’s Note: The minor witnesses in our reporting of this trial will only be identified by their initials to protect their privacy. Readers may find their testimony disturbing; it is sexually explicit.
RAWLINS — Ten witnesses for the prosecution took the stand during the second day of the trial of Jonathon Moser.
The defense called only a single witness.
At the end of the day, both the prosecution and the defense had rested their case.
Moser, a former special education teacher at Rawlins Middle School is being tried on four charges of sexual abuse of a minor. Three charges of second-degree sexual abuse allege inappropriate touching with an RMS student. In the charge of first-degree sexual abuse, Moser is alleged to have had intercourse with a minor student in an RMS classroom.
All incidents are alleged to have taken place during the 2014-2015 school year.
Moser and a few members of his family remained in the courtroom for all of the proceedings. Dressed neatly in a gray suit, Moser wore black-framed glasses, his head shaved. He appeared unmoved as a half-dozen teenage girls, some visibly emotionally distressed, told the jury of how he found ways to touch them in classrooms, on school buses and in gyms.
Several officials involved in the case, including Rawlins Middle School Dean of Students Robert Steinberg and Carbon County Deputy Thomas Lakia, also took the stand as witnesses.
Morning testimony opened with Robert Steinberg, who told the jury of seven women and six men (one is an alternate) about how RMS was experiencing a problem with student tardiness during the 2014-15 school year, and how the school instituted a new policy to deal with it.
Called “tardy detention,” students who were late to a class or late to school five times had to go to tardy detention after school. During that time, they were not allowed to do homework or any another activity; they simply had to sit, Steinberg said.
Steinberg testified that then-Principal Jarrod Dastrup informed him that Moser “had volunteered” to supervise tardy detention.
Using school disciplinary records, the prosecution established that the two alleged victims for whom Moser has been charged in this case — A.C. and M.G. — had been placed in detention during the period of December 2014 to February 2015.
During cross-examination, defense attorney Timothy Cotton also used school records to try to establish that the victims in question were never alone with Moser during detention. The records showed additional students listed as serving in detention on the dates in question.
Additionally, Cotton questioned Steinberg about video cameras located on school buses that would have captured images of possible inappropriate behavior. One incident of second-degree abuse is alleged to have taken place on a school bus.
Steinberg said that he was not sure that cameras were operational at that time, as the school was in the process of switching to a new provider. But in any event, the alleged event occurred too long ago, no video record from that period was saved, he said.
Prosecutor Dawnessa Snyder asked Steinberg a couple of final questions.
“Do the cameras pick up infrared so that it can record what happens on a dark bus?” she asked. Steinberg said it did not, and that the backs of the seats on the buses are too tall to observe what students are doing.
She also questioned him about the records of tardy detention, noting that students who were assigned detention for other reason than tardiness would not appear on school records, and that Moser could have released students early from detention as well, without the school administrators being aware of it.
“Mr. Moser would have to report which students attended or were assigned to detention?” Snyder asked him.
Steinberg agreed that it was possible that he would not know about all detention activities.
“Similar acts testimony”
Six victims of Moser’s alleged inappropriate touching and sexual behavior also testified. Some drew diagrams of classrooms, and showed on a female mannequin where Moser allegedly touched them.
Several witnesses who testified were identified by Carbon County District Court Judge Wade Waldrip to the jury as witnesses who represented “similar acts.”
Some of them were members of the volleyball team, for which Moser served as a volunteer coach; others were students.
These witnesses, the judge instructed the jury, did not reflect upon the guilt of the defendant, but only represented a possible “pattern of behavior or course of conduct, with the intention of sexual arousal, gratification or abuse,” Waldrip said.
Volleyball team members reported unusual touching on their sides or buttocks.
Some of his students drew diagrams of Moser’s classroom, showing how he sat at his desk at the rear of the class, with other students facing forward. At least two different students who alleged that Moser sat next to them and touched them on the thigh or vagina sat in the same desk near the rear of the classroom.
Testimony relating to the charges
Two young witnesses testified about the behavior for which Moser is charged in this case.
The second-degree charges Moser faces relate to three separate incidents with M.G.
Visibly uncomfortable and seemingly intimidated with sitting on the witness stand, M.G. looked down, her voice barely above a whisper. Waldrip, and the attorneys questioning her asked her repeatedly to speak louder.
M.G. whispered her story of how she was often late to volleyball practice.
“I would always be late because I would stay after school to get my grades up,” she whispered.
One day when she arrived late for practice, she said Moser was alone with her in a back gym at the Rec Center, where practices where held at that time.
“He grabbed my boob,” she said. “I pushed him away.”
Then on a bus ride home from Glenrock, where the volleyball team had played in a tournament, M.G. said she sat in the back of the bus, with a pillow and blanket she brought to be comfortable. Moser walked to the back of the bus, sat next to her and put his hand under the blanket.
Moser, she said, “started rubbing my leg, moved up to my vagina. I pushed his hand away.”
M.G. said Moser did it to her again when she was placed in detention.
Calling him “the detention teacher,” A.C., the victim for which Moser is charged with first-degree sexual abuse, told the jury that his attentions toward her were persistent, and how he used his authority as a teacher to keep her in his classroom.
While in detention one day, A.C. said “he would rub his hand on my leg, he would put his hand on my hand,” she said.
When she pulled away, he assigned her another day of detention.
A.C. said she was afraid to tell anyone, so she asked her best friend to go to detention with her, “because I felt uncomfortable,” she said. A.C. said she sat with her friend and Moser did not approach her.
The next time she was in detention, she said she found herself alone with Moser.
“No one else showed up for detention,” she said.
That day, she said, Moser closed the door, undressed her, put her on a table and had intercourse with her.
When it was over, she testified Moser “pulled up his pants and said detention’s over.”
A.C. remained calm during her testimony.
Cotton established a routine for cross-examining the alleged victims, starting with A.C.
Cotton greeted her cordially, as though trying to put her at ease. He then questioned her about how she had not reported any of these incidents, even though she had many opportunities with her parole officer, with teachers, the principal and other adults Cotton said she could trust.
A.C. remained calm and firm in her responses.
Yes, she said, she had not told adults about Moser’s alleged sexual assault even though she had many opportunities. She did not even tell police when she was initially questioned about Moser.
“I was trying to block the whole thing out of my mind,” she said.
The trial resumes today at 9 a.m. with closing arguments.