A Contra Costa County Superior Court jury today acquitted a Concord elementary school teacher of molestation charges involving three former students and deadlocked on counts involving nearly a dozen others.
Joseph Martin, 46, a Martinez resident and longtime teacher at Concord’s Woodside Elementary School, was arrested in June 2013 after a parent reported that he had inappropriately touched her son.
The accusers alleged that the teacher rubbed, brushed and inappropriately touched 14 of his former students in different incidents over seven years, both in his classroom and at his home.
Prosecutors eventually charged Martin with molesting the 14 boys.
A clerk read the verdicts in a Martinez courtroom this afternoon, finding Martin not guilty of 21 charges of lewd and lascivious acts involving three students and deadlocking on more than 90 similar charges involving the 11 other purported victims.
The jury was hung on the remaining charges, with a split of either three to nine or 11 to one, prompting Judge Mary Ann O’Malley to declare a mistrial for those counts.
Martin is set to return to court in Martinez on Sept. 8, when a decision could be made about a possible re-trial, according to attorneys.
Deputy District Attorney Derek Butts, who tried the case, said that decision would depend on “a huge number of factors.”
Until then, Martin will remain in county jail in Martinez on $10 million bail.
Butts said after today’s court hearing that he was disappointed by the jury’s verdict.
“We had all these children come in and testify, which in and of itself is a very traumatic event,” Butts said.
“To think they did that essentially for nothing is disturbing,” the prosecutor said.
During the trial, Butts painted Martin as a teacher who became obsessed with certain male students and took advantage of his position of trust to get closer to them, both physically and emotionally.
During the nine-week trial, the jury heard testimony from the accusers, who recounted how Martin would reach underneath their shirts and touch them. Some testified that he would occasionally massage them or have them sit on his lap.
In one incident, according to Martin’s testimony, he kissed one of the boys on the cheek as he consoled him about a recently deceased sibling.
Other evidence presented at trial included testimony from parents who said Martin would shower their boys with gifts and treats and wouldn’t take no for an answer when they told him their children couldn’t spend time with him after school.
Jurors also saw numerous personal letters the teacher sent to the boys in which he expressed his love for them.
But the defendant insisted that the sentiments were platonic. He testified that while he was affectionate with his students and spent time with some boys outside of school, he never touched them inappropriately.
Today in court Martin wore a gray suit and sat stoically next to his attorney, Patrick Clancy, as the verdicts were read, sometimes looking back at his family members sitting in the audience.
Had he been convicted on all charges, Martin could have received multiple lifetime prison sentences, a factor Butts said he always worried might affect the jury’s decision.
Clancy, on the other hand, said the verdicts merely reflected the jury’s belief in his client’s innocence.
Standing outside the courtroom today, the attorney reiterated his argument during the trial that the accusations against his client stemmed from “mass hysteria” fueled by gossip and exaggerations that spiraled out of control.
He has said Martin would pat his students in the collarbone area, but never reached rubbed their bare chests and stomachs as the accusers alleged.
Clancy said the case is the “worst false allegation case since the McMartin case of the 1980s,” in which operators of a Manhattan Beach, Calif. preschool were accused of sexually abusing children in their care. A jury eventually acquitted the defendants.
The attorney said he believes Martin’s case also reflects the vulnerable position of male elementary school teachers to accusations of pedophilia or inappropriate touching.
“If you’re a man, I would not be teaching elementary school,” he said. “It’s that bad.”
Clancy said he “seriously doubts” that Martin will return to teach at Woodside Elementary and that “it would probably be best if he didn’t teach again.”
The defendant’s wife, Jennifer Martin, said outside the courthouse this afternoon that she was relieved the jury “saw the true facts of the case.”
She described her husband as a devoted father to their two young daughters and a dedicated teacher who wants to see his students succeed in life.
“It’s been a very long journey having two little girls and being separated from my husband, it’s been very difficult,” she said.
She said she and her family are prepared to be there to support Martin if the district attorney’s office decides to re-try the case.
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Photo credit: Joe
Photos: (top) Defense Attorney Patrick Clancy – (bottom) Joe Martin’s wife, Jennifer