October 23, 2012

Judge orders trial for former Modesto teacher in encounter with teen

A judge this afternoon ruled there was sufficient evidence for James Hooker, a former Modesto schoolteacher, to stand trial accused of having a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl more than a decade ago.

A judge quickly ruled Tuesday afternoon that there is sufficient evidence for a former Modesto teacher to stand trial on accusations of a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl 14 years ago.

James Hooker, 42, of Modesto is charged with one count of committing oral copulation with a person younger than 18, stemming from the alleged incident in the summer of 1998.

The alleged victim, now a 31-year-old woman, testified in Hooker's preliminary hearing that the defendant performed oral sex on her at his mother's rural house near Turlock.

Hooker gained national attention earlier this year when he left his wife and three daughters and quit his job as a business teacher at Enochs High School to move in with an 18-year-old former student. He and Jordan Powers still are together, her mother said this month.

Hooker and his attorney sat alone in the courtroom before the judge began the hearing, which lasted only a few minutes. Powers was not at the courthouse Tuesday; neither was her mother.

Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Thomas Zeff scheduled Hooker to return to court Nov. 6 for an arraignment. The defendant remains free on bail as he awaits trial.

Before that, Zeff rejected a defense motion to dismiss the charge because the case had gone beyond the statute of limitations. Zeff said in court that the statute of limitations does not prevent prosecution in this case.

The statute of limitations for the charge of oral copulation of a person younger than 18 is 10 years. But state legislation now allows prosecutors to file charges against a defendant accused of committing a sex crime against a minor even if it's been more than a decade.

Some requirements must be met to file such criminal charges:

Prosecutors have one year after an incident is reported to police to file a criminal charge.

The alleged crime must involve substantial sexual misconduct.

There must be independent evidence that corroborates the victim's allegation.

As she walked out of the courtroom, Mary Lynn Belsher, Hooker's defense attorney, said, "This is wrong. This is totally wrong." She declined to comment further.

After the hearing, Deputy District Attorney Beth O'Hara Owen said, "I'm satisfied with the judge's ruling. He applied the law with the facts in this case."

Detectives initially began to investigate Hooker in January after Tammie Powers reported an inappropriate relationship between her daughter and Hooker, who was then a teacher at Enochs High. Jordan Powers moved in with Hooker on Feb. 22, the day he resigned from Modesto City Schools.

During that investigation, the detectives learned of the alleged victim from 1998. She told police she was involved in a romantic relationship with Hooker the summer after she graduated from high school.

The alleged victim testified that she met Hooker at a Future Business Leaders of America conference. He was then a business teacher at Davis High; she was a senior at Beyer High.

A few weeks after the alleged sexual encounter at his mother's house in August 1998, Hooker ended the relationship, the woman said. She testified that he told her his wife had discovered an e-mail that revealed their affair.

The alleged victim, identified in court as Jane Doe, testified that she reported to police the sexual relationship she had with Hooker after she learned of news reports of his affair with Powers, "because he had become a repeat offender. I thought he had gone back to his family."

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at rahumada@modbee.com or (209) 578-2394.

James Hooker attends his preliminary hearing

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