A Washington County trial jury could not reach a unanimous agreement during deliberations in a sexual battery case involving a high school student and her former shop teacher.
The panel deliberated about three hours before reporting the hung verdict to Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood during Estel Lynn Kiser’s sexual battery by an authority figure trial.
Kiser, 64, of Elizabethton, is accused of putting his hand up a student’s shirt and under her bra during an encounter near the end of class Dec. 9, 2010.
The case boiled down to a he-said, she-said situation since there were no eyewitnesses to the alleged incident.
Kiser was a plumbing instructor in the vocational program at Daniel Boone High School for nearly 10 years when he was suspended and ultimately left the school system over the allegation.
The jury heard evidence all day Wednesday and on Thursday until the panel’s deliberations began around 2 p.m.
State and defense witnesses painted differing views of Kiser and had varying opinions of Kiser’s classroom conduct at Daniel Boone High School, but all agreed they never saw inappropriate sexual behavior between him and students.
State prosecutors rested their case-in-chief Wednesday afternoon. Defense attorney Matt Bolton put Kiser on the stand Thursday morning to tell his side of what happened.
Kiser testified that on the day in question, Dec. 9, 2010, his students were working on a pipe-cutting project. After the alleged victim finished her turn sawing the pipe, she followed him into a storage area where he’d gone to get a tissue for himself.
The girl was proud of her accomplishment and told Kiser he should frame her piece of pipe, but Kiser said he didn’t respond to that comment. Then the girl asked him to feel her pulse because her “heart was racing,” he testified.
Kiser said he felt the girl’s wrist and neck, but that was the only physical contact he had with her. Right after that, the girl asked to leave class early and he said she could. Kiser said the girl thanked him and did not appear in any distress.
When the girl left, she told a classmate that Kiser had put his hand under her bra and the friend encouraged her to report it, according to testimony from Wednesday. The two went to the office and told school administrators the girl’s version of the events.
Kiser was suspended that day.
On cross examination by Assistant District Attorney Ken Baldwin, Kiser said he couldn’t remember if he called Investigator Jared Taylor or if the officer called him, but they arranged to meet for an interview.
Kiser said the interview only lasted about 10 minutes before he decided to end it. But he did tell Taylor all the events that led up to the point the girl said he touched her inappropriately and on a video of the interview, Kiser told Taylor he never touched the girl’s bottom or breast.
Baldwin asked Kiser why he would bring up the girl’s buttocks when he had no knowledge about the girl’s allegation that he had slapped her there on one occasion.
“What I was trying to get across to Mr. Taylor was I didn’t touch her anywhere inappropriately,” Kiser testified.
Kiser told Baldwin he was trying to twist his words around.
As to the incident the girl said Kiser slapped her on the buttocks while she was asleep on a table, Kiser said “when did that happen? In my class with 26 students? Where’s the witnesses to that?”
Baldwin said, “that’s your explanation to that?” Kiser said it was.
He said he could “only speculate” as to why the girl would accuse him of touching her.
Bolton also called Grant Rowland, former director of Washington County schools, to the stand to testify about Kiser’s character. Rowland said he’s known Kiser about 16 years and when he created the vocational program in 2000, he had Kiser in mind for the job.
Kiser had to obtain a teaching certificate, a trade and industry certificate and pass a background check before being hired, but Rowland said no one else was interviewed for the job.
During the time Kiser worked at Daniel Boone, Rowland said there were two reprimands of the teacher because of allowing students into his classroom when they were supposed to be somewhere else.
The state presented several rebuttal witnesses, including Dr. Bill Flannary, an assistant director of schools, who said he thought Kiser’s hiring process was “unusual,” and described multiple occasions he found students in Kiser’s shop and not in their appropriate class. Flannary also said he caught five students smoking in Kiser’s shop on one occasion.
The state presented several student disciplinary reports about students being in the shop when skipping class, but none of those reports indicated Kiser knew they were there. The vocational class apparently had a classroom that is separate from the shop and Kiser had testified that students sometimes came into the shop without his knowledge.
Kiser is free on $15,000 bond while the case is pending. The case is set for Dec. 17 for prosecutors to announce if they will try the case again.