Saturday, September 1, 2007

Randall Hinton convicted of two counts of child abuse

September 1, 2007
Vic Vela
The Daily Record

After a six-hour deliberation, a six-person jury found Randall Hinton — the project manager and co-founder of the Royal Gorge Academy boarding school — guilty of one count each of third-degree assault and false imprisonment.

However, jurors felt there was enough reasonable doubt to find the defendant not guilty of four other counts of third-degree assault and one count of false imprisonment as the week-long trial ended late Friday evening.

In a trial that featured references to everything from red ants, feminine hygiene products, swastikas, “The Da Vinci Code,” and the Columbine Massacre, it was no surprise that a Jack Nicholson movie character was too referenced.

In his closing argument to jurors, Fremont County Deputy District Attorney Thom LeDoux attempted to paint Randall Hinton in the same light as Col. Nathan Jessep — the marine, played by Nicholson, who stood trial in the 1992 film, “A Few Good Men,” who was court-martialed in the movie. Like Jessep, LeDoux said Hinton tried to excuse his actions at the school as a man who was “just doing his job.”

“But, when you do something that causes harm to another human being, we have an obligation to take a good, long, hard look at what you do,” LeDoux said.

Jurors did just that. Deliberations began at 3:30 Friday afternoon, with the verdicts finally being presented to Fremont County Court Judge Norman Cooling at 9:35 that evening.

The jury ultimately found Hinton guilty for the actions he took involving 15-year-old Riverside, Calif., boy who testified Tuesday that the defendant slammed his face into a stairwell wall and put him in a headlock as he carried him to his upstairs dorm room.

The guilty verdict came in spite of the defense’s attempt to paint the boy as a trouble maker. Defense testimony was provided that called into question the boy’s character, claiming he would draft racist writings and draw swastikas. He also was described as a “danger” to other students after it was learned the boy had stolen a knife from the school’s kitchen.

However, the boy said he only stole the knife for the purpose of using it to unscrew a window in his room in an attempt to run away from the school.

The jury also felt Hinton was criminally responsible for falsely imprisoning a 17-year-old Long Beach, Calif., boy who testified the same day that Hinton kept him face down on the floor for so long, he had to vomit. The boy also said the defendant would not allow him leave the room in order to vomit, even after complaining of stomach pains.

However, jurors did not feel the testimony of three other teenagers was compelling enough to sustain the charges against him relating to them.

Jurors dismissed one count each of third-degree assault and false imprisonment for Hinton’s actions against a 17-year-old Highlands Ranch girl who claimed the “arm lock” the defendant put her in on the night of Dec. 28, 2006, “was one of the most painful things” she went through.

The girl alleged Hinton would not let her change her pants after she had her period.

The girl admitted to hitting herself in the head with a stapler and attempting to run away from the school the second day she was there. The girl also admitted to contemplating drinking shampoo, “anything to get out of there.” Meanwhile, the girl was offered tampons, but said she rejected them, claiming they were uncomfortable.

Hinton’s attorney, Michael Gillick, described the girl as a “drama queen,” and someone who was used to getting her way at home.

“I didn’t know Gucci made tampons,” Gillick quipped to jurors in an effort to paint the girl as difficult.

Hinton was found not guilty of one count of third degree assault involving a 16-year-old Bloomington, Minn., boy who testified he and three other boys were forced to lay on top of a “red ant pile” after the defendant caught the boys near the hogback hills area following an attempted runaway attempt.

Another count of third-degree assault involving the Minnesota boy — who also alleged Hinton had forced him to stay still while ants bit him — also was dismissed by jurors.

Jurors never heard further testimony regarding potential “anti-Mormon resentment,” from a key prosecution witness and a CaƱon City Police Department detective.

Gillick questioned the credibility of Patty Pacheco — a former Academy executive secretary and Hinton friend — who said one of the reasons it was difficult to come forward was because of potential repercussions and “the people in Utah.” Gillick took that as being a derogatory statement aimed at Hinton, who is Mormon.

Gillick also questioned why CCPD Det. Sgt. Jeff Worley — who led the police investigation into Hinton — never took the stand. Gillick said he and Pacheco were part of a group who protested the opening of the 2006 film, “The Da Vinci Code.”

In an effort to quell LeDoux’s stance that Hinton — who stands 6’2,” 270 pounds — was much larger than the alleged victims and didn’t need to use physical restraint against them, Gillick reminded jurors that Columbine High School Massacre shooter Dylan Klebold was “not a big guy either.”

However, Cooling would not allow the jury to consider either “anti-Mormon resentment” or parallels to Columbine.

During his closing argument, LeDoux attempted to remind the jury that “these kids are not on trial,” in an effort to dissuade them from accepting the defense’s efforts to paint the students as “troubled kids.”

“There’s no conspiracy here,” argued LeDoux. “These kids didn’t get together and say, ‘We’re gonna get this guy.’ They didn’t even know each other.”

Now, Hinton’s fate rests with Cooling. Third-degree assault is a Class I misdemeanor and carries with it a maximum penalty of two years in county jail.

The false imprisonment charge is a Class II misdemeanor; Hinton faces up to one year in jail for this charge.

Cooling will determine in a future sentencing hearing whether Hinton will receive jail time, probation or a combination of both.

Vic Vela can be reached at vvela@ccdailyrecord.com.