PORTLAND — Parents and teachers on Thursday praised James Raymond Jr. as a gifted educator and musician in federal court on the second day of the former Auburn teacher’s trial for sex-related crimes.
One after another, mostly women from Auburn and its suburbs spoke with admiration about Raymond’s tenure as music teacher and assistant director of the marching band, adding his behavior around children had always been appropriate.
They said the James Raymond depicted in the media and by prosecutors is not the same person they came to know well and entrust with their children and students.
The defense began presenting its case early Thursday afternoon after prosecutors rested in U.S. District Court. Raymond waived his right to a jury. A judge will decide his fate.
Raymond, 29, of Auburn was indicted last year by a federal grand jury on two counts of transporting a minor in interstate commerce with the intent of engaging in criminal sexual activity. If convicted, he faces a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison, and a maximum sentence of life on each count.
The charges stem from two trips Raymond took with an 11-year-old student and her 9-year-old sister to Canobie Lake Park in Salem, N.H., during the summer of 2007.
The former student, now 14, testified earlier this week that Raymond touched her buttocks, breasts and “private area” during the trips.
Raymond is expected to testify on his behalf as the defense continues Friday.
On Thursday, witnesses called by defense attorney Richard Hartley painted an energetic and inspirational portrait of Raymond, one who was able to elicit the highest level of musical achievement from the children he taught at Auburn schools, on the field of Leavitt Area High School and privately at his home.
“I think he’s probably the best music teacher Auburn has ever seen,” said Linda Roman of Auburn. She worked at the school where Raymond was a student teacher. She also rented her second-floor apartment to him for two years.
Roman said Raymond’s only fault was that he was naïve and that trait tripped him up, especially when he took two young girls to New Hampshire with no other children or adults along on the trip.
But others defended that action, saying they wouldn’t think it inappropriate if the chaperone was trustworthy and had parents’ permission.
Patricia Smith of Greene, whose two daughters were members of the marching band at Leavitt during Raymond’s tenure, said students continue to have “great respect” for Raymond. “We all feel that this has been a big scam,” she said of the charges.
Before stepping down from the witness stand, each defense witness was asked by Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Wolff about Raymond’s admissions to having:
• urges about touching young girls’ legs and buttocks.
• touched inappropriately as many as four of his students.
• bought memberships three times to child pornography Web sites.
All but one of the eight defense witnesses said those admissions and events wouldn’t change their opinion of Raymond.
One of the witnesses, whose daughter was taught by Raymond at school and at his home, said that information could change her opinion of him.
Wolff also questioned the mother of the student whose accusations are at the heart of the government’s case.
The single mother of three girls and two boys said her daughter had complained after a school bus trip to Canobie Lake Park in the spring of 2007 that Raymond had embarrassed her with his inappropriate behavior while sitting beside her at the back of the bus. Her daughter asked that she not tell anyone.
Later in the summer, Raymond began calling the girl’s mother repeatedly about arranging a trip to Canobie Lake Park.
“I got suspicious, and it was quite annoying,” she said.
Each time, other students and Raymond’s adult brother were supposed to go on the trip, the mother said. But, on both occasions, only the two girls and Raymond made the journey.
The mother also said she learned later that Raymond took the two girls to his home each time before driving to New Hampshire.
That “put a fright in me,” the mother said.
A federal agent testified that he and two other agents went to Raymond’s home in 2007 after getting tipped off that he had subscribed to child pornography Web sites. Raymond admitted to three of the four alleged purchases, but said he had erased the memory on the computer on which he viewed those images and later sold the computer.