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Girl, 8, takes stand to describe abuse

Her teacher touched her "inappropriately," she says. The defense works to show inconsistencies in the statement of the girl and other children.

By CHRIS TISCH
Published July 1, 2005



 

Update: Teacher acquitted in abuse case


LARGO - The girl hugged a pink Teddy bear on the witness stand as she told the jury about her least favorite part of music class. It was when all the kids sat on the floor and watched a video.

"That was when Mr. Fronczak touched me, when we watched movies," the 8-year-old girl said.

The girl said her teacher summoned her to a chair in the back of the darkened classroom. She sat on his lap. Twice he used his fingers to penetrate her, she said.

The girl's testimony is the cornerstone of the sexual battery case against Mark Fronczak, 50, the former music teacher at Southern Oak Elementary School in Largo. His trial is expected to end today.

As part of the same case, Fronczak also is accused of molesting a second girl in his classroom. If convicted of the charges, he could face life in prison.

"He chose to violate their innocence and teach them how it felt to be victims," prosecutor Erin Wolfe said in opening statements Thursday.

But Fronczak's defense attorneys landed some major blows to the prosecution's case. They punched holes in the sheriff's investigation and caught almost all the child witnesses in inconsistent statements.

The case began on Dec. 1, 2003, when the girl's mother noticed a nickel-sized spot of blood on her daughter's underwear. She found two more pair in the laundry also spotted with blood. The girl said she didn't know how the blood got there.

The mother said a doctor found scarring indicating sexual abuse, though the girl told her parents, two doctors and other medical staff she was not abused.

But in April 2004, five months after the alleged offense, the girl told her mother: "It was him. You know, the music teacher. Mommy, he put his hands down there. It felt like needles were going inside me. It just hurt."

The girl, a straight-A student who is in a program for the gifted, said she waited so long to tell because she feared getting in trouble.

Sheriff's detectives launched an investigation at the school. They interviewed 280 children, 71 of whom claimed to have seen Fronczak put students on his lap, but only a few who said they were touched.

Fronczak was arrested in April 2004.

Defense attorney Pat Doherty said the Sheriff's Office developed Fronczak as a suspect, then worked to arrest him while ignoring other suspects - especially any connected to the victim's home.

"The police were too busy trying to find someone who sat on Mark Fronczak's lap," Doherty said.

Doherty also noted the mother told a doctor the girl had bled for five days, which would have meant the bleeding started on Thanksgiving Day, when the girl was on school break. The girl was last in Fronczak's class 10 days before Thanksgiving.

Doherty also noted: If Fronczak did abuse the girl, why did no other children in the class immediately claim to see it?

Two children later did, but there were problems in their statements.

The first witness was the victim's best friend, who says she also was molested by Fronczak. On the stand Thursday, her eyes darted from prosecutor Kendall Davidson to Fronczak at the defense table.

She seemed shell-shocked, sometimes not answering questions for minutes. At one point she leaned toward Davidson and whispered: "I'm afraid."

Though her obvious fear may resonate with jurors, the girl, now 10, changed parts of her story, increasing the number of times she said she was touched. She also claimed to see the first victim getting abused. But her description of the victim's clothing and position at the time of the offense varied from the victim's testimony.

She also said the abuse occurred just a week after a group of older girls told the two of them that Fronczak had been accused of touching students. Fronczak was accused in 2002 and 2003; both complaints were dismissed.

Doherty and co-counsel Gail Conolly seem poised to argue that the children heard the rumors, then contrived the abuse stories.

In addition, Doherty said that after Fronczak's arrest and release from jail on $220,000 bail, the second victim called her mother to report Fronczak was at the school.

But a GPS monitoring device showed he was at home. The girl testified that she saw him that day.

Later in the day came testimony from a second witness, who at first denied seeing any abuse, then said a year later he had.

The boy's credibility was badly damaged by Doherty's cross-examination. For instance, the boy said the victim was allowed to go home after every time she sat on Fronczak's lap, an assertion school records refute.

Two other girls testified that Fronczak held them on his lap and rubbed their backs, legs and bellies. They did not tell any adults about the lap-sitting until after Fronczak's arrest.

The case could rest on whether jurors believe the initial victim. She cried during testimony Thursday, as did her mother in the audience.

"He was touching me inappropriately," the girl told jurors. "He was touching me in my private parts."

The jury this morning will be allowed to visit the classroom where Fronczak taught. They will get to see the room in various shades of lighting, though no attorneys will be allowed to speak during the visit.

[Last modified July 1, 2005, 01:23:13]


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