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Testimony may alter teacher's sex case

By CARY DAVIS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 31, 2002

NEW PORT RICHEY -- There have been two constants in the case against James Christopher Howard, the former Bayonet Point Middle School teacher serving eight years in prison for having a sexual relationship with a student.

First, authorities have always said that the sexual activity stopped with kissing and fondling.

And second, Howard's wife, Linda, has never given up on her husband. She has described him in court and in letters as a loving husband and a devoted father.

New details that surfaced at a hearing Thursday shook those two constants to the core.

An investigator testified that the victim, who was 12 when the relationship began, recently told her that the sexual activity included "everything else but" intercourse. Through testimony by child protection investigator Linda Dixon-Rosario, the girl, now 15, said she and Howard had engaged in oral sex.

The girl also said that Howard, now 42, constantly complained to her about his wife, Dixon-Rosario testified. On several occasions, the girl told Dixon-Rosario, Howard referred to his wife as "psycho," the investigator testified.

Linda Howard bowed her head during Dixon-Rosario's testimony. Howard looked at his wife and shook his head.

Thursday's hearing wasn't supposed to make things worse for Howard, who has been in a state prison since he was sentenced in January.

Howard had come to court hoping to persuade Circuit Judge William Webb to reduce the sentence to four years. Webb did not rule Thursday.

Howard said in testimony Thursday that prosecutors had wrongfully portrayed him as a pedophile who used his position of authority to take advantage of a vulnerable young girl. In reality, he said, "The incidents were not planned. I was very confused."

Every day in prison, he said, he thinks about the damage he has caused the girl and her family.

The victim's mother took offense at Howard's testimony and his attempt to have his sentence reduced. "Your apologies mean nothing," the girl's mother said, glaring at Howard. "You've destroyed my family."

The mother said the girl blames herself for what has happened to Howard. The girl sees herself as the perpetrator and Howard as the victim, she said.

The Times is withholding the names of the girl and her mother because of the nature of the crime.

The mother said her daughter has been abusing alcohol and has withdrawn from relatives and friends. The woman said she recently placed her daughter in a residential treatment center.

-- Cary Davis covers courts in west Pasco County. He can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6236 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6236. His e-mail address is cbdavis@sptimes.com.

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