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Jury convicts teacher

June 20, 2009|By SILVIO J. PANTA, Staff Writer

Shaking his head slowly in disbelief, defendant Samuel Hargrove Falk said nothing as a jury convicted him Friday of a single misdemeanor count of annoying and molesting a child under 18.

With his wife and other loved ones quietly weeping from behind in the courtroom, the 45-year-old defendant expressed no other emotion as he reacted to the decision reached by the jury consisting of four women and eight men. They deliberated Falk’s fate for nearly a week.

Falk’s conviction means the Imperial Valley man might face a maximum term of a year in county jail and would preclude him from ever teaching again.

Falk’s sentencing hearing is scheduled July 31. Falk would face a mandatory requirement to register as a sex offender.

Imperial County Deputy District Attorney Jodi Miller said it was the right decision but that jurors did reach their decision very easily.

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Testimony from a friend of the 17-year-old victim helped substantiate what she had said on the stand about a series of trysts Falk had with her inside a classroom during lunch breaks.

The girl was told about the verdict but Miller declined to say anything else about her.

“I think they used what the friend said to corroborate what the victim said,” Miller said. “The victim and the friend were very credible.”

Donald Freenor, a 33-year-old Imperial resident who was the jury foreman, said jurors had a tough time in reaching their verdict. But in spite of the circumstantial evidence the defense’s position that the girl “chased” Falk was not a defense, Freenor said.

The fact that Falk never reported his suspicions about the girl’s troubled home life, and the testimony from her friend about a series of notes exchanged between the girl and Falk, were things jurors considered, Freenor said.

Jewelry and a teddy bear given to the girl were factors jurors discussed in their deliberations, Freenor said.

Another juror, a 42-year-old El Centro resident who works as a state employee, also said the verdict was not easily reached but felt Falk erred in his conduct.

“I don’t think he’s a, like a predator, but I believe he did act inappropriately with a minor,” said the juror, who declined to give his name. “We even went through testimony from the girl and the friend.”

A third juror, a 33-year-old AT&T employee from Imperial, said while no one saw Falk kiss the girl during their relationship, he was given a written order to stay away from her, which Falk disobeyed.

But after seeing Falk’s wife and mother-in-law react to the verdict, the juror, who asked not to be named, said he felt bad.

“It was a tough case,” the juror said. “If my job is (is threatened) I would stay.”

“You could tell he was a nice guy,” the juror said. “He let himself get caught up in that.”

A former employee of Brawley Beef for more than 10 years, Falk worked as a meat processor, he said in court testimony, before he earned a college education in order to launch a teaching career.

Falk has two adult children from a prior marriage and is the father of a 4-year-old boy in his current marriage. He taught at Calipatria High School for four years and at Southwest High School for two years.

Defense attorney John Breeze said Falk was angered by the verdict in spite of substantial evidence put on to show that the girl was lying.

Breeze also chided the publicity in the case, saying it created “a circus atmosphere to a certain extent.”

But Breeze also chided Imperial County Superior Judge William Lehman for his decision to disallow testimony from defense witnesses to be read back to jurors during deliberations.

Lehman also sealed the files to past Child Protective Service reports that involved members of the girl’s family, Breeze said. The reports could have legitimized Falk’s concerns about possible abuse or neglect occurring in the girl’s home.

“It was all based upon her word against his,” Breeze said. Asked about the written order prohibiting Falk from seeing the girl, Breeze said, “That’s not what he’s been on trial for.”

>> Staff Writer Silvio J. Panta can be reached at 337-3442 or at spanta@ivpressonline.com

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