Hearing held for former NMH teacher accused of statutory rape 40 years ago

Staff Writer
Published: 9/24/2020 4:10:14 PM

GREENFIELD — Opposing attorneys agreed to work together on a statement of facts so Judge Richard Carey can analyze the argument behind a motion to dismiss in the case of a man accused of raping a 14-year-old Northfield Mount Hermon School student when he worked there about 45 years ago.

John “Jock” Sturges, now 73, of Seattle, faces single charges of one count of rape of a child and rape of a child with force. The two counts pertain to alleged incidents between August 1975 and June 1976.

Sturges’ attorney, David Rountree, and Assistant District Attorney Frederic Bartmon argued for and against Rountree’s motion to dismiss during a hearing held via the video conferencing platform Zoom on Thursday morning. Sturges and the alleged victim also listened in.

The attorneys agreed to work toward a statement of facts due in 30 days.

Rountree said Sturges was investigated twice, in 1985 and 1989, and the FBI’s file on his client has been lost.

“My problem is there is not one bit of evidence in front of me — none,” Carey said. “So I can’t even begin to unravel this thing.”

According to the report filed by Northfield Police Chief Robert Leighton, the alleged victim reported the crime in June 2016, saying she was 14 and Sturges was 28 when he was employed at NMH. She told police Sturges, her counselor, was dismissed from the school following the rape.

Her evidence included four handwritten letters Sturges wrote her after his departure, a letter she had written him, and five photos of her that were obtained through a search warrant in another, unrelated investigation. Three of the photos were nudes. Sturges worked at the school as a photography instructor and a dorm head for one year, from 1975 to 1976.

According to school records, Sturges’ contract was not renewed at the end of his first year “because of some dissatisfaction with his job performance,” NMH Communications Director Stephen Porter previously told the Greenfield Recorder.

Arguing in favor of his motion to dismiss, Rountree told Carey a four-year delay in prosecution “puts any defendant at a distinct disadvantage.”

The state has repeatedly cited “Art for Teachers of Children,” a 1995 feature film the alleged victim made detailing the incident using fictional characters. But Rountree told Carey it is not a documentary.

“It’s a work of fiction,” he said.

But Bartmon countered that the alleged victim has said the film “is the most accurate depiction of the sexual activity that occurred between the defendant and herself when she was a child.” He also said Sturges indicated the film is largely accurate and he had “crossed the line” with a teenage girl.

“This is a trial issue. This should not be decided as a pre-trial issue,” Bartmon said. “I think we’ve made a good faith showing, that we’ve provided a preview of what we anticipate being able to offer to rebut this affirmative defense.”

Sturges has published several photography books, and his work, often controversial, is in the collections of many museums, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the International Center of Photography in New York, the Denver Museum of Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

In February 1998, an Alabama grand jury indicted bookseller Barnes & Noble on child pornography charges for selling Sturges’ 1994 book “Radiant Identities,” as well as British photographer David Hamilton’s 1995 “The Age of Innocence” at Barnes & Noble stores in Alabama.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.




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