PETERSBURG — The trial of Pike Central High School Principal LeAnne Kelley ended Thursday without a verdict.

Kelley, with Pike Central name badge on, is charged with two counts of failure to report child abuse or neglect, a Class B misdemeanor. Special Judge William Weikert of Dubois County is expected to rule on the bench trial next week.

Kelley, 47, and Pike Central Superintendent D. John Thomas were both charged by a grand jury in March 2009 after a male teacher was arrested for an inappropriate relationship with a female student.

Much of Thursday’s trial surrounded events that occurred in Nov. 2007 between a then 17-year-old student and former Pike Central teacher Luke Musselwhite.

Musselwhite, who later pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor in 2009, had a texting relationship with one of his female students and was alleged to tap another female student on the thigh with a yardstick. Musselwhite later resigned in 2008.

Many of the state’s witnesses testified to events that led Kelley to allegedly not inform the Department of Child Services of the proceedings.

The first was Dale McKinney, a former member of the Pike County School Board that said the board voted 3-2 in executive session not to fire Musselwhite in Dec. 2007. A vote in an executive session is illegal under the state’s Open Door law.

“This is a full-blown cover up,” Pike County District Attorney Darrin McDonald said during an objection argument.

“This was (to them) a private matter to keep a teacher that was liked by Kelley.”

McKinney said he did not know of the yardstick incident until Thomas told him of it before he was to testify in front of the grand jury in Dec. 2008.

Jade (Arnold) Cornelius, now 19, the girl who had a texting relationship with Musselwhite, was also called to testify. She said that her mother made her tell Kelley of the relationship after she found out about them in November 2007.

The two messages said that “bad things would happen,” if she and Musselwhite were “next to each other,” and that they “had a future together.”

She also told Kelley that there was no physical contact between her and Musselwhite. McDonald said later that both of them were not honest about the other text messages.

After her, Julie Weeks of the Pike County Child Protective Services office testified that Kelley and Thomas called her in 2007 after the texting episode to say they had an investigation of “a matter between a student and a teacher” and they would notify her when the investigation was complete. Weeks said no follow-up call was performed by CPS.

“I took this information and was advised to put it in a folder,” Weeks said.

Defense Attorney Thomas Farlow asked Weeks if she did not investigate further and she told the judge she did not. It was not until April 2008 that police learned of the yardstick incident involving Musselwhite. Aaron Simpson with Pike County CPS said he felt the allegation of sexual misconduct was unsubstantiated at the time but, during cross examination, said he turned the yardstick incident over to police.

State Police Det. Tobias Odom testified next, giving notes found in a search warrant on the Pike Central Schools office on the Musselwhite investigation. He said he had reason to suspect Kelley was not truthful with CPS after talking with a Pike County Sheriff’s Deputy Jeremy Britton.

“(The deputy) did not feel Kelley did give him all the facts of the case,” Odom said. During cross, it was learned that Odom learned of this after his investigation into Musselwhite was finished.

Britton testified later for the defense and said the texting incident was not criminal when he learned about it from Cornelius and Pike Central staff in 2008 and told Kelley that they should take care of the matter internally.

The girl who Musselwhite tapped with a yardstick, still a Pike Central student, said Musselwhite did not touch her in an inappropriate manner and defended Kelley.

“I think me and (Musselwhite) just got along really well,” the student said. “There was nothing inappropriate.”

Kelley then took the stand. She said that while she allowed her teachers to show emotions to the students, there was a line not be crossed and Musselwhite crossed it.

“My business card at Pike Central has a saying that says ‘Do what is right,’” Kelley said. “I feel that is our responsibility.”

Kelley said at the time she interviewed Cornelius and Musselwhite the first time, she felt there was no physical contact between them but he did care about her.

She also stated from her investigation the “bad things would happen” text was not typed by Musselwhite but was forwarded from his phone.

“He said he told (Cornelius) that she should not be texting him,” Kelley said.

Later, during cross examination, Kelley said she trusted what the two had said and did not feel they were lying about a relationship.

“I believe in my kids and my teachers,” Kelley said.

McDonald then said the two were not telling the whole truth, placing doubt that the two had a larger relationship and Kelley should have reported Musselwhite to CPS.

“It’s still difficult to know that he lied to you?” McDonald asked.

Not mentioned during Thursday’s trial was former Pike Central teacher Marty Deputy, who committed suicide in 2008, before Musselwhite was arrested. Deputy was suspected, but not confirmed, of also having inappropriate relationships with female students.

Thomas, who is facing one charge of failure to report, is facing trial in June. Several Pike Central and Washington High School teachers were in attendance, with some calling the trial “stupid” on their way out of the courtroom.

McDonald said he could not comment on the trial until Weikert brings back a verdict. Farlow said the trial went well and he expects Kelley to be found not guilty.

“I think we presented the evidence and it was very clear and it acted very clear,” Farlow said.

React to this story:


Trending Video

Recommended for you