Judge to consider NHCS’ request for delay in teacher sex abuse trial

Judge to consider NHCS’ request for delay in teacher sex abuse trial
Published: Jun. 27, 2022 at 5:03 PM EDT
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NEW HANOVER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - Attorneys for the New Hanover County School (NHCS) Board are going to court this week, asking that the date for an upcoming civil trial over sexual abuse by teachers be continued. It’s one of several matters scheduled to be considered by a judge on June 30, after NHCS Teacher of the Year Michael Kelly pleaded guilty to sexual abuse crimes involving more than a dozen former students.

Attorneys for the victims are opposed to any further delay, saying that the wait for justice has already been far too long for these young men.

To underscore that point, they shared a video compilation with several of the former students who say Kelly abused them, and the mothers of two victims. One of those mothers was clearly in emotional distress at the lack of response when she says she told school administrators in 2010 about Kelly’s concerning behavior with her son. She killed herself last year, two weeks after giving the deposition about what happened.

“God I don’t know how I’m going to live with this,” the mother says in her videotaped deposition, before beginning to sob. Attorney Joel Rhine can be heard off camera assuring her that what happened was not her fault.

“I am f***ing pissed.... that I went and I talked to Dr. [Rick] Holliday about this, and nothing happened,” another victim shared in the video, referring to his efforts to alert the school principal. The same victim told WECT in 2018 that Kelly used to take him naked into a sauna at the YMCA.

When those allegations first surfaced, WECT spoke to Holliday about claims this student specifically told Holliday years ago that Kelly was showing pornography to students in class. Holliday insisted he had no recollection of that conversation. He later went on to serve as NHCS Deputy Superintendent.

People continued to come forward to say they, too, had brought their concerns about Kelly to Holliday or other school administrators, even after the school system reported having no record of any complaints about Kelly during his 25-year career. That prompted District Attorney Ben David to request an SBI investigation into concerns that NHCS administrators failed to report suspected sexual abuse to law enforcement. The investigation recently concluded, and is now in the hands of North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein.

“I was assured by not just Rick Holliday, but by a couple of other parents that knew Mr. Kelly... and said, ‘Oh, he’s a wonderful guy.’ But the assurance from the principal is to me the biggest betrayal to me of anything, because they are in a position to protect our kids, and he should have done at least his due diligence,” another parent said through tears in the video. “I trusted the officials to tell me if this was inappropriate, and they told me it was fine and I had nothing to worry about.”

Victims said that Kelly’s abuse has had profound consequences on their lives. Several have attempted suicide. Others say they have struggled with substance and sexual addiction as a result of their early exposure to pornography and Kelly’s sexual advances. The young men also report the stress this early trauma continues to inflict on their lives has hurt their ability to form and maintain healthy romantic relationships.

“There’s anger, there’s sadness, there’s a lot of yelling... It’s just me cycling through those emotions trying to figure out an answer that as a 14 year old I shouldn’t have been made to figure out,” another victim said on the video. “I wake up most days blaming myself. I’ve blamed myself for everything that’s happened. Even though I rationally know that doesn’t make sense.”

“I dropped out of high school. That’s a pretty big impact. I gave up for a long time. The impact is distrust for others,” yet another victim shared on the video, which attorneys showed to us but asked us not to air in its entirety to protect the identities of the men who were abused as minors.

During the June 30 hearing, a judge is also expected to consider the specific requirements for an independent medical examiner to evaluate the plaintiffs who are suing the school system. The judge will also rule on whether a video recorded deposition with Tilly Gurley, the former principal of Isaac Bear Early College High School (IBECHS), will be able to be played at trial.

Many of Kelly’s victims were students at IBECHS, and some say they and their parents brought shared concerns about Kelly’s behavior with school administrators, but Kelly remained on the job. Gurley gave a day-long deposition, detailing her investigation of the complaints. She told attorneys she contacted the New Hanover County Schools district office about “inappropriate jokes” Kelly had told students in the classroom, but said she was not aware she was required by law to report sexual misconduct to law enforcement.

After attorneys were unable to complete Gurley’s deposition in one day, she said she would return to finish answering questions, but then failed to do so. Attorneys believe she experienced emotional distress from the legal proceedings, and may not be able to testify in court. They believe she is a key witness to proving that school administrators knew about the abuse but failed to report it, and are hoping to use the recording of her partial deposition in court.

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