A longtime Concord elementary school teacher testified in a Martinez courtroom today that he never inappropriately addressed or touched any of his students, despite the numerous child molestation charges against him.
Joseph Martin, 46, took the stand for the first time in Contra Costa County Superior Court today in the lengthy trial against him, which is expected to wrap up this week.
He is charged with 150 counts of lewd and lascivious conduct with 14 male former students at Woodside Elementary School, where he allegedly touched and rubbed boys beneath their shirts on their chests and stomachs, brushed boys’ groin areas and had them sit on his lap.
Dressed in a suit and tie, Martin answered a series of repetitivequestions about whether he ever inappropriately touched or spoke to his students with a firm “No.”
He told the court that he wanted to create a positive, fun environment for his class and cared deeply about his students, making sure to focus on the ones that had behavior problems or struggled with their schoolwork. Martin testified that he was affectionate with his students, doling out encouraging pats on the back and chest as well as hugs, but only after checking if it was ok with them.
“It was a natural part of my teaching,” he said.
Under direct examination from his attorney, Patrick Clancy, Martin testified about different times he had touched the purported victims in the case. He sometimes gave backrubs to boys if they requested them and once massaged a boy’s calf because he was sore after basketball practice, Martin testified.
Another time, he testified, he lifted a boy up to see if he would be too heavy to carry, and in another instance, he kissed a boy on the cheek while consoling him about his recently deceased brother.
In another incident of alleged inappropriate touching witnessed by a passing teacher, Martin said he had only reached over to catch a boy who was about to fall from a chair in his classroom.
However, he repeatedly denied the allegations of many of the purported victims that he put his hand under their shirts and rubbed their nipples and stomachs.
During his 22-year teaching career, many parents requested their children be in his class and some even asked him to tutor their kids or spend time with them outside of school because of the positive influence he had on them, he testified.
Martin said he treated his students like family and developed closer relationships with some of his students.
That was the case for two boys whose mother died and who would frequently come to Martin’s house to have dinner with him and his wife, he testified.
During the many hours the two boys spent with him and his wife, he probably took “hundreds and hundreds” of pictures of them, including photos where one of the boys was shirtless, he testified.
He also spent time outside of school with other male students, taking them bowling or going to their homes to bring birthday presents, he testified.
But while he developed deeper bonds with some students, the teacher testified, he told all of his students he loved them and signed off letters to the entire class with “Love.”
With less than an hour for cross-examination this afternoon, Deputy District Attorney Derek Butts focused on another set of letters written by Martin that were addressed to God.
In one letter, shown to the jury early on in the trial, Martin wrote, “Dearest Father, Before this, I was living for myself only, I was living to gratify me, serve me and feed my sinful desires… Please God, help me to not get arrested, not go to jail, and in the name of Jesus, not be charged with any crimes.”
Another letter written by Martin and displayed in court today read, “I felt evil today. I felt the darkest demons of hell being entertained in my head.”
Martin testified today that he was inspired to write the letters after his wife gave him a book entitled Jesus Calling and considered them an outlet after learning from a parent that students were accusing him of inappropriate touching. He said the “sinful desires” he wrote about referred to his desire to be better than other teachers as well as his feelings of “severe depression.”
The defendant also testified that Internet searches found on his home computer such as “definition of molestation,” “what if you are falsely accused?” and “Is a chest a private area of a boy?” were entered only after he learned of the pending allegations against him.
Clancy has said that the charges against his client stemmed from school gossip that led to “mass hysteria” and false accusations.
Martin’s testimony is expected to continue tomorrow, along with attorneys’ closing statements.