Victim speaks out at James Hooker's sentencing hearing

07/17/2013 2:06 PM

10/20/2014 1:47 PM

Michelle Miller’s hand quivered as she tightly held a written statement, explaining how at 17 years old she became involved in a sexual relationship with a Modesto teacher 11

years older.

She met Hooker at a Future Business Leaders of America conference. He was then a business teacher at Davis High School; she was a senior at Beyer High. “There were no warning signs I could see,” Miller said, while reading her victim impact statement in a Stanislaus County courtroom Wednesday afternoon. “James Hooker didn't act like a predator.”

She said she suffered from depression, had lost contact with her friends, and her boyfriend had moved two hours away for a job. Miller said she was vulnerable, and Hooker took advantage of that vulnerability.

“The person responsible is James Hooker,” she said.

Hooker, now a former teacher, was sentenced Wednesday after pleading no contest earlier this week to a misdemeanor charge of having oral sex with Miller 15 years ago. He has been ordered to register as a sex offender for life and serve four years of probation.

The defendant sat quietly in the courtroom as Miller read her statement. He admitted to performing oral sex on Miller, but Hooker has maintained that he did not know she was underage.

Leaving court after the sentencing, Hooker’s defense attorney, Mary Lynn Belsher, told news photographers, “Get away from my client,” and called them “rude.” She didn't make any comments about the conclusion of the case.

Hooker did not make any statements during the hearing or afterward as he and his 19-year-old girlfriend and former student, Jordan Powers, were followed by news cameras out of the courthouse. The couple’s relationship gained national media attention last year, which prompted Miller to finally tell her story to police.

During an investigation into Hooker’s relationship with Powers, detectives learned of Miller. She told police she had a romantic relationship with Hooker the summer after she graduated from high school.

A few weeks after the sexual encounter at his mother’s house near Turlock in August 1998, Hooker ended the relationship, Miller said. She testified that Hooker told her his wife had discovered an email that revealed the affair.

Miller first learned of Hooker’s relationship with another high school student last year, when she spotted a link to a news story on a friend’s Facebook page. In her victim impact statement, she said she discovered Hooker was not even able to end his marriage with integrity before starting a relationship with another teenager.

“I felt instantly sick as I waited for the (news) article to load,” Miller said. “He had become a repeat offender, and I felt it would not end with Jordan Powers.” Miller, now 32, read her statement while standing near the jury box and the counsel’s table facing the judge. Celebrity attorney Gloria Allred stood at her side.

Allred represents Miller and attended Hooker’s October preliminary hearing. Miller had been identified in court as Jane Doe, but her attorney said her client gave her permission to reveal her name to news media gathered in the courthouse lobby.

“At the time, the victim was extremely vulnerable because of challenges she was facing in her personal life,” Allred said. “Mr. Hooker, like many sexual predators, must have sensed that vulnerability, and took advantage of it.”

Miller said in court that she decided to stay silent about her illicit relationship with the teacher, fearing she would face intense ridicule. She thought that Hooker would return to his wife, and that telling her story then would end Hooker’s marriage and hurt his family.

But later, she was diagnosed with depression while in college. Miller said she has been receiving medication for depression for more than a decade, feeling so sick at times that she didn’t want to live. She said she felt “unlovable and worthless.”

In January 2012, detectives began to investigate Hooker after Tammie Powers, Jordan Powers’ mother, reported an inappropriate relationship between her daughter and him.

A month later, Hooker left his wife and three daughters and quit his job as a business teacher at Enochs High School to move in with Jordan Powers. That’s when Miller decided to tell police about her relationship with Hooker. She said she constantly shook as she spoke to investigators and relived her encounters with Hooker.

“The day he was released on bail, I was terrified,” Miller said about Hooker, who remained free on bail while he awaited his trial.

She was worried Hooker would retaliate against her for talking to police. There was no indication he ever tried to contact or communicate with Miller after his arrest in April 2012.

Miller explained how she was hounded by TV news reporters, including one who found her mother as she returned home from grocery shopping. She received phone calls from the “Dr. Phil” show, one of the two nationally televised shows on which Hooker and Jordan Powers appeared before he was arrested.

She received calls from strangers, threatening to photograph her at the courthouse and reveal her identity, she said. Miller returned to counseling and has received support from her family and friends, she said.

“I’m not convinced I would’ve survived this case had I reported it back in 1998,” Miller said. But she said she’s satisfied Hooker is required to register as a sex offender, and her decision to come forward has stopped him from “continuing his pursuit of teenage girls.”

Miller did not speak to reporters but stood beside Allred as she spoke about her client’s courage in reporting a crime against a minor.

“Because she has done the right thing, other children will now receive a measure of protection, and Mr. Hooker will now be recognized for the predator he is,” Allred said.

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