Defense offers 27 witnesses to counter ex-student's claims

March 24, 1994|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Sun Staff Writer

Lawyers for a Northeast High School teacher charged with having sex with a student presented an Anne Arundel Circuit Court jury yesterday with 27 witnesses who tried to chip away at the alleged victim's credibility and her account of the crime.

At least a dozen teachers testified that Charles A. Yocum, 30, who taught special education at the school, was "honest and truthful." Others said that he never locked his classroom, as the alleged victim had testified Tuesday, and one teacher said a partition separating his classroom from hers allowed very little privacy.

"I could hear everything that went on through that wall," said Patricia DeWitt, a resource teacher at Northeast in 1989, the year Mr. Yocum is alleged to have begun his relationship with the alleged victim, a 16-year-old student.

Mr. Yocum of Glen Burnie is charged with child abuse and with unnatural and perverted sex practices. He is among three Northeast teachers accused in the past year of having sex with students.

One of them, Ronald Walter Price, a former social studies teacher, was convicted and is serving a 21-year prison term.

Yesterday, Sylvia Finney, a secretary at Northeast whose two children were friends of the alleged victim, testified that the young woman told her in a chance meeting at a convenience store that she had been raped at a dance.

After Cynthia M. Ferris, an assistant state's attorney, objected that the testimony was irrelevant, Judge Eugene M. Lerner instructed jurors to disregard the remark -- but they heard it just the same.

Mr. Yocum's lawyer, Terrence M. Nolan, also has made sure jurors knew that the woman was convicted on 28 counts of passing bad checks in Pennsylvania, where she now lives.

The Sun does not identify alleged victims of sex crimes.

Tuesday, the alleged victim testified that Mr. Yocum befriended her in her sophomore year when she confided in him about her troubled relationship with her alcoholic father and abusive stepmother.

In one visit to his classroom during a free period, Mr. Yocum began touching and kissing her, she said. The relationship progressed to where she performed a sex act with him three times -- twice in his classroom and once in a storage room closet. He locked his classroom door and papered over the door window beforehand, she said.

But yesterday numerous teachers said that Mr. Yocum's classroom door was never locked and that he papered over his window only to give tests.

"The principals were pretty emphatic about that," said Al Kohlhafur, a business teacher and wrestling coach. "You don't lock your doors,"

Mr. Kohlhafur also was among those who testified that Mr. Yocum, a fellow wrestling coach, was "truthful and honest."

The alleged victim also testified that she and Mr. Yocum were interrupted once when a teacher she identified as "Burgan or Burgundy" knocked on the locked door.

Yesterday Joseph Burgin, a former special education teacher at Northeast and George C. Burgan, a social studies teacher, said they never knocked on Mr. Yocum's locked door, nor saw the door window papered over.

"The only time it would have been locked was when no one was in there," Mr. Burgin said.

The case is expected to go to the jury today.

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