Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Isabelle Zehnder: Teenager testifies in Hinton trial

August 28, 2007
By: Vic Vela
The Daily Record

Disturbing testimony was provided Monday by a former Royal Gorge Academy student who described bloody details of the alleged physical abuse he received on the part of the boarding school’s co-director, Randall Hinton.

However, the student’s credibility was questioned by Hinton’s attorney — something that will certainly be a large part of the accused’s defense as more witnesses take the stand — as Hinton’s week-long jury trial commenced.

A 17-year-old California boy testified he and two other former students were in a room alone with Hinton when the abuse took place during an Oct. 3, 2006, incident.

“He twisted my arm behind my back and smashed my face into the ground,” the boy said. “I felt like my arm was going to snap. He made me lay in my blood…”

The boy said he was awoken from his bed early that day and was told by a staff member that he would be spending the day with Hinton. The boy testified he was taken to a room where another male student was seated on a chair and a female student was on the floor. Hinton was in the room, as well.

The boy testified that being seated on the chair was uncomfortable for him and when he asked the defendant if he could lie on the floor, Hinton allowed the do so with his “chin up the whole time and arms at (his) sides.”

It was after the boy engaged Hinton in a conversation that the defendant became physically abusive toward him, the boy said. The boy testified Hinton drove his knee into his back and twisted his arm, bringing the student to tears.

Shortly after the incident, Brian Lemons, also a school co-director, walked into the room and saw the boy on the floor covered in blood. Lemons then “threw a tissue at (the boy’s back) and left the room,” according to the boy’s testimony.

The boy said he was told to take a shower and was given a clean school uniform following the incident.

The children were not able to speak to each other during the “14 hours” they spent together in the room, the boy testified.

When asked by Fremont County District Attorney Thom LeDoux if the boy knew why he was being punished that day, he said, “I don’t know to this day why I was in that room.”

LeDoux also asked the boy to explain why he didn’t immediately notify his parents of the incident when he spoke with them over the phone in the days that followed.

“We were told that if we said something bad about the school … there was a staff member next to us who would hang up the phone,” the boy said.

However, Hinton’s attorney, Michael Gillick, attempted to highlight to jurors what he believes to be the boy’s behavioral problems. Gillick asked the boy in a series of questions if he had anger management issues; the boy answered in the affirmative to most of Gillick’s questions.

Gillick also asked if the boy had ever considered suicide.

“When I was younger, yes,” the boy said.

The boy also said he was prone to nose bleeds because of Colorado’s high altitude. Gillick attempted to use that as a way to establish reasonable doubt in the boy’s testimony.

When Gillick asked why the boy didn’t complain to school officials of the alleged abuse, the boy said, “I wasn’t given time…I wasn’t allowed out of the room.”

Hinton was arrested in January following a CaƱon City Police Department investigation that culminated in seven counts of third-degree assault being charged against him. He also faces two counts of false imprisonment.