Substitute teacher not guilty of child seduction
By Ruth Ann Krause and Carrie Napoleon Post-Tribune correspondents March 5, 2014 9:22PM
Brandon Hooks | Provided photo~Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 7, 2014 1:24PM
CROWN POINT — A jury Wednesday took about an hour to decide a North Newton County Junior/Senior High School substitute teacher accused of an inappropriate relationship with a student was not guilty of both child sex charges against him.
Brandon Hooks left the courthouse smiling with one of his supporters after jurors returned the verdict of not guilty on two counts of child seduction, one alleging he had sex with the victim when she was at least 16 and younger than 18 and the other of fondling the victim to satisfy his sexual desires or her sexual desires.
The charges stem from allegations Hooks had an inappropriate and sexually explicit relationship with a 16-year-old student at the high school in October and November of 2011. The victim’s father found evidence of the relationship — explicit texts and nude pictures of Hooks and the victim — on his daughter’s cell phone.
The victim has maintained the relationship was consensual. However, state law dictates the age of consent is 18 when the adult is a child care worker in a position of trust, such as a teacher.
Prosecutors Veronica Gonzalez and Michael Haynes said they were disappointed by the outcome.
During closing arguments Gonzalez argued that the girl was under the control of Hooks and that they had agreed ahead of time to deny a sexual relationship occurred if they were caught. “You know to delete everything once we are done talking. We don’t want a ’rent (parent) getting your phone and busting us out,” Hooks texted the girl.
Hooks’ attorney hammered at the concept of reasonable doubt before the two-man, four-woman jury. Defense attorney Mark King questioned what happened to nude photographs of the girl that she testified she sent to Hooks. Both her father and the principal saw them, but Merrillville police Detective Cmdr. Jeff Rice, the lead investigator, said he saw only explicit photographs of Hooks when he met with the girl and her father. Rice said the girl did not delete any photos in his presence.
It was those unanswered questions that ultimately led jurors to their findings, two of the jurors told prosecutors.
The jurors, both women, wished to remain unidentified. They said jurors wanted more evidence Hooks and the victim were at the Red Roof Inn together when they allegedly had sex.
“One receipt isn’t enough,” one of the women said. They would have liked to have seen receipts from both nights and something that tied the victim to Hooks at the hotel. The women said the lack of proof created enough of a doubt that the victim could possibly have had a grudge against Hooks, found the receipt and made up the story.
The two women said jurors also could not get past the gaps in the cellphone evidence, particularly the absence of phone calls between the pair on the days of their alleged rendezvous.
Both women said the defense’s attempt to show Hooks was not an employee of the North Newton school system did not work. They had no doubt Hooks was an employee at the high school and therefore a caregiver in the eyes of the law regarding the age of consent.
“I would expect any employee in any capacity at any school be held to the same standard,” one of the women, who has children of her own, said. “School should be someplace safe.”