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Jury in Molestation Case Fails to Reach Verdict

Teacher: Whether to retry high school film instructor accused of rubbing against two girls will be decided June 10.

May 30, 1996|FRANK B. WILLIAMS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

VAN NUYS — A jury has deadlocked on sexual molestation and sexual battery charges against a former Van Nuys High School teacher, and authorities now hope that a judge will agree to try him once again.

Kevin Henry, once a popular film production instructor, was facing three counts of sexual molestation and one count of sexual battery before a Van Nuys Superior Court jury was unable to reach a verdict last week. Deputy City Atty. Deborah Sanchez said Wednesday that a June 10 hearing will determine whether Henry will stand trial again for allegedly rubbing up against two girls while on campus.

A 14-year-old girl told administrators at Van Nuys High that on Nov. 16, 1995, Henry touched her breasts while she was changing the letters on the school sign. A 15-year-old girl alleged that Henry, 41, touched her breasts several times at the school in September and October.

The parents of one of the girls have filed a civil suit against the school and vice principal Keiko Hentell, alleging that the administrator knew that other girls had complained about similar actions by Henry in the past. The suit said that Hentell had compiled a file detailing those earlier complaints.

Reached at her office at the school, Hentell declined to comment on the suit or on Henry.

Los Angeles Unified School District officials said the district has clear guidelines concerning complaints of sexual abuse.

No matter how seemingly insignificant the incident, administrators must immediately notify school district officials when molestation charges surface, employee services director Walt Greene said Wednesday. In fact, he said, administrators or teachers can face criminal charges for failing to report such incidents and could receive six months in jail and a possible fine of $1,000 if convicted of such an offense.

"All teachers and administrators should immediately report it and not try to investigate themselves," Greene said.

Greene said the district will stand behind Hentell while the accusations in the parents' lawsuit are being sorted out. "The district will support an employee unless it's been proven that there has been negligence on their part," Greene said.

Prosecutors believe the jury failed to reach a verdict partly because it is extremely difficult to prove cases that do not involve intimate sexual contact. Though both girls accuse Henry of rubbing up against them, they did not allege that he overtly grabbed them.

Sanchez said prosecutors were also unsuccessful in establishing that Henry had a history of making inappropriate advances toward girls. Two other girls, a senior and a recent Van Nuys High graduate, testified that Henry had touched them as well. Prosecutors also tried to enter Hentell's file as evidence, she said, but the judge would not allow it because the file did not discuss the incidents at issue in the trial.

But even if the file had been entered as evidence, obtaining a conviction would have been difficult because jurors generally give little weight to past accusations not directly tied to the charges at hand, Sanchez said.

"It's very difficult to prove these type of cases because you have one person saying one thing and another saying something else," Sanchez said. "It usually comes down to who the jury thinks has credibility."

Henry, who has been free on his own recognizance, has been ordered by the court to stay at least 100 yards away from any school or students. He has since resigned from teaching at Van Nuys High.

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