Testimony begins in trial of former teacher James L. Parks of Southampton, accused in child sexual assault case



Last modified: Friday, February 13, 2015

NORTHAMPTON — A former middle school science teacher from Southampton admitted to his wife and police that he sexually molested a girl for approximately five years, but his lawyer contends that James L. Parks is not guilty of other accusations for which he is on trial in Hampshire Superior Court.

Jurors on Thursday began hearing testimony in the case of Parks, 56, of 60 Rattle Hill Road, who has pleaded not guilty to three counts of rape of a child aggravated by age difference, nine counts of indecent assault and battery on a child under 14, three counts of indecent assault and battery on a person 14 or over, posing a child in a state of nudity, distributing obscene material to a minor, and attempting to commit a crime.

Parks was a science teacher at West Springfield Middle School when he was arrested June 21, 2013, but the alleged victim was not a student there. West Springfield School Superintendent Russell Johnston has declined comment on whether Parks is still employed, but has said that he is not allowed on school grounds while the court case is proceeding.

The Gazette as a matter of policy does not identify the alleged victims of sexual crimes.

Parks’ attorney, Jared Olanoff of Springfield, asked the jury to convict his client only of indecent assault and battery on a child under 14, but said the other charges against Parks are not true. He said his client admits only to inappropriately touching the girl over her clothes from when she was between 11 and 15 years old.

“This case is about what did happen versus what didn’t happen,” Olanoff said.

Assistant District Attorney Linda Pisano told that jury that while the assaults started with Parks touching the girl over her clothes when she asked for a back rub after a soccer game when she was 11, he later raped her, videotaped her without her knowledge, and showed her pornographic videos. The charge of attempting to commit a crime results from an incident in which the girl struggled and prevented an assault, Pisano said.

“This is not a complicated, circumstantial, whodunit case,” Pisano said. “It’s straightforward.”

Pisano said that when the girl was 15, she told a friend that Parks was molesting her. Several days later, on June 21, 2013, Parks’ wife got a call about what the girl had said.

Julie Parks, who now lives in Easthampton and said she plans to divorce her husband, testified that she confronted him immediately. He admitted to it and told her he was going to kill himself, and she called police.

Parks was trying to get in a car and leave when Easthampton and Southampton police approached him in his driveway. “I told him he needed to tell them what he had done,” she said.

Easthampton Staff Sgt. Christopher Patnode testified that Parks told the officers that he had been “doing things” with the girl since she was in the 6th grade, and that “most of the time it was consensual.”

“He said he was ready to face the consequences,” Patnode said.

Patnode testified that Parks never said he had sex with the girl, but Southampton officer Scott Gove said he remembered Parks saying they had sex. Parks was taken to Cooley Dickinson Hospital due to his suicidal statements, Patnode said, and then was arrested.

Five days later, Pisano said, police searched Parks’ home and seized a video camera and the computer and tablet that the girl said he had used to show her pornography. While police were there, Julie Parks told them that she did not know where her husband was and that she thought he was going to try to kill himself, Pisano said during her opening statement.

Police tracked Parks’ cell phone and found him in his car in Westhampton bleeding from self-inflicted wounds on his neck and arms, and he was hospitalized again, Pisano said.

“He left a note saying, ‘This can’t go on,’ ” and apologizing to his family, Pisano said. The note also referred to the girl using a vulgar word, she said.

Olanoff said Parks was angry when he wrote the note because the girl had told police that he raped her, when he did not. He said his client is willing to take responsibility for his illegal actions, but they do not include rape, showing the girl pornography or videotaping her.

“James Parks did have an inappropriate relationship,” Olanoff said. “That was wrong, that was illegal, and he will be punished. What did not happen was rape.”

Olanoff also said that while the girl was not legally old enough to consent, when she was 14, she was “asking for back rubs, and she knew what back rubs were.”

Pisano said that the girl fought Parks off one time, and otherwise allowed him to molest and rape her. “She’ll tell you, she didn’t know what to do,” Pisano said.

The girl is expected to testify Friday. Pisano said she had family members in the courtroom Thursday.

Parks has been free on $1,000 bail since his arraignment June 24, 2013. If convicted, he faces up to life in prison.

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.


 


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