Judge: Ex-Modesto teacher Hooker must stand trial in 1998 sex case

01/16/2013 10:56 AM

06/26/2013 2:29 PM

A judge on Wednesday denied a motion to dismiss a felony charge against a former Modesto teacher accused of having 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.

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

On Wednesday, Mary Lynn Belsher, Hooker's defense attorney, argued that the alleged victim told a counselor about the sexual misconduct in 1998, which means the statute of limitations had run out by the time prosecutors filed the criminal charge last year.

She said the counselor never notified authorities and nothing was done until 2012, when the alleged victim saw a news story about Hooker's affair with another high school student.

"The complaining witness saw something on TV, and here we are," Belsher told the judge.

Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Linda McFadden disagreed with Belsher's argument. The judge said a state law was in effect before the 1998 alleged incident, essentially making Hooker criminally liable for the rest of his life. "It's similar to murder, not having a statute of limitations," McFadden told Belsher.

The judge said state law allows a criminal complaint to be filed up to a year after the incident was reported to police, but the alleged crime must be substantial sexual misconduct involving a minor. She said the claim must have clear and convincing corroborating evidence.

In her argument, Belsher cited a section of the state law that requires authorities to file criminal charges within three years after an alleged sex crime against a child has been reported to a responsible adult, which she said was the counselor in this case.

The judge said the prosecution used another section of the law to charge Hooker. McFadden said that section of the law was designed to allow victims to report a substantial sex crime 30 or even 40 years later, even when a responsible adult failed to notify authorities dec-ades before.

Hooker gained national attention last 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, Jordan Powers.

Belsher argued that authorities failed to find any criminal act in Hooker's relationship with Powers, but they're trying to convict him anyway. She said in court that her client believed that the alleged victim in 1998, then a recent high school graduate, was 18 when the sexual encounter occurred.

Detectives began to investigate Hooker in January after Tammie Powers reported an inappropriate relationship between her daughter and Hooker. Jordan Powers moved in with Hooker on 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.

Identified in court as Jane Doe, she 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 she said he had become a repeat offender.

Hooker is scheduled to return to court July 3 for a trial readiness hearing; his trial is scheduled to start July 15. The defendant remains free on bail.

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

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