A former high school teachers aide who had sex with two students in a basement classroom while other students used their cell phones to film the incident was found not guilty of all charges on Friday.
A Pima County Superior Court jury acquitted Clarice Marie Lee of four counts of sexual contact with a minor and one count of sexual exploitation of a minor in connection with the January 2013 incident at Amphitheater High School.
Throughout the trial and in closing arguments, defense attorney Walter Palser maintained Lee had no way of knowing one of the teens was 16 years old.
Palser played a video for jurors of Lee’s interview with police a few days after the incident. In it, Lee’s countenance changes from confident and matter-of-fact in her descriptions of the sexual encounter with the students to weeping and crestfallen when police told her the boy was 16 years old.
“The state would have you believe that’s false,” Palser said. “Because that’s the only way the state’s theory makes sense.”
The Arizona Daily Star has not identified the teen, who is still a minor.
A cellphone video of the encounter with the two students that the prosecution played for the jury showed Lee asking how old the students were. The students replied that they were 18 years old, although Lee jokingly called the students “liars.”
Deputy Pima County Attorney Elizabeth Farkas attempted to counter Lee’s defense that she was unaware of the victim’s age.
“She knew (the victim) was under 18 because she called him a liar,” Farkas said. “She did not make any reasonable effort to find out their ages.”
The prosecution also noted Lee referred to the students as “boys” and “kids” numerous times during her initial interview with police.
Farkas then read the jury a portion of the transcription of the interview Lee had with police wherein she said: “I knew I shouldn’t have worked at a high school for something like this happening; and look, it did.”
In her testimony on Thursday, Lee said she had at least one previous flirtation with some of the students involved in the incident. “I flashed them,” Lee said.
She explained that she saw about six or seven of the boys near the cafeteria on the afternoon prior to the sexual encounter in the gym’s basement and exposed herself.
Lee said at least one of the students may have touched her breasts as well, but she was unsure who it was. Another student filmed the incident with his cellphone.
Lee testified that she instructed the student not to show her face in the video.
Palser said Lee was battling self-esteem issues and enjoyed the attention from the male students.
“She was flirting with them. It made her feel better about herself; it made her feel attractive,” Palser said. “Unfortunately, at that point she chose poorly.”
The jury also acquitted Lee on the sexual exploitation of a minor charge despite the prosecution’s argument that she had facilitated the making of child pornography.
Farkas questioned Lee about whether she knew a student was recording the incident in the basement where she had sex with two students, including the 16-year-old. Lee said she wasn’t sure if the students were filming because the basement room was dark.
Farkas was incredulous, saying it would have been obvious because the student was moving around Lee and the others holding a cellphone in his extended hand. In addition, Farkas said the light from the phone’s flash was clearly visible in the video of the incident and Lee could be seen looking directly toward the camera.
“It looked like a flashlight,” Lee said, reiterating that she did not know the cellphone was recording.
Palser argued that Lee not only was unaware of the teen’s age but also did not know one of the students was recording the incident.
“Just because you’re looking at something,” Palser told jurors, “doesn’t mean you know you’re being filmed.”