Former Marietta High School teacher Christopher King, 36, was found not guilty a few weeks ago after prosecutors accused him of having a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old student. The trial ended when Cobb County Superior Court Judge Robert Flournoy granted Cobb County defense attorney Scott Semrau’s request for a directed verdict. Judge Flournoy agreed with Semrau that prosecutors failed to put forth any evidence that the alleged victim did not consent to the relationship.
The state’s evidence showed that King and the student began a relationship in the fall of 2008 after meeting through the school’s newspaper club for which King was the faculty advisor. The relationship soon turned sexual in nature and was eventually ended when school officials and the alleged victim’s father found out. The Cobb County District Attorney’s Office then filed the charge of sexual assault against a person in custody despite the fact that King and the alleged victim have consistently maintained that the relationship was mutual and consensual.
TrialClips covered the trial, along with other TV and print media. Here is a clip of Defense Attorney Semrau’s opening statement from the TrialClips YouTube channel:
The decision to prosecute King swirled with controversy, since it followed a Georgia Supreme Court ruling which held that consent was a defense for teachers accused of sexually assaulting students 16 years or older. The Court’s decision was primarily based on Georgia’s age of consent law which allows anyone 16 years old or older to consent to sex. Thus, in such cases, a prosecutor must overcome a defendant’s defense of consent to win a conviction.
In King’s case, the state had to persuade the judge and jury that there was no consent without the alleged victim’s cooperation. During the state’s case, Assistant District Attorney Maurice Brown conducted a direct examination of Marietta High School’s principal, the detective who interviewed the alleged victim, and the father of the alleged victim. The testimony of these witnesses focused on the life of the alleged victim after the relationship was exposed such as embarrassment and having to change schools. However, the testimony failed to demonstrate a lack of consent. The state’s case was further hampered when it put the alleged victim on the stand. Instead of showing manipulation or force on King’s part, the alleged victim demonstrated that she was an independent young woman who consented to King’s advances and even pursued King.
The final witness for the state was an expert witness on child sexual abuse and the state’s last hope to show a lack of consent. On direct, the expert witness described how sexual predators will “groom” their prey through a process of buying gifts, giving compliments, and showing attention. Scott Semrau, King’s attorney, dismissed these acts as being what two consenting adults do when they engage in dating. Semrau also attacked the expert witness for her lack of knowledge and research on relationships between consenting adults.
Semrau then moved for a directed verdict citing a lack of evidence showing force or coercion. Judge Flournoy granted the motion but not before calling the relationship “gross” and “awful”. If King had been convicted, he would have faced between 10 to 30 years in prison and a lifetime on the state’s sex offender registry.