Former teacher's aide acquitted of sex charge

Andy Simmons Staff Writer

December 9, 2013

A jury has found Travis Demond Hart, a former teacher's aide at LaGrange High School, not guilty of three counts of sexual assault against a person in custody.
The verdict was reached Saturday morning at 10:45 a.m. after the jury began deliberations at 9 a.m. Friday.
Harts defense attorney, Jackie Patterson, Thursday said during his closing argument that the law was not very clear if it applied to paraprofessionals such as Hart. It only applied to teachers, principals, assistant principals and other administrators.
Patterson reiterated this a number of times to the jury.
“There was no legal interpretation that a paraprofessional is a teacher,” Patterson said.
According to Patterson, the law only began applying to paraprofessionals this year, two years after the incident had occurred.
Assistant District Attorney Jep Bendinger, however, tried to convince the jury that this case was “about protecting children and holding people with certain responsibilities accountable.”
“Sometimes you've got to protect children from themselves,” Bedinger told the jury.
Both Hart, 26, and the victim admitted on the stand that the sexual encounter was consensual.
“I made one of the biggest mistakes I've ever made because I knew if anyone found out I'd lose my job,” Hart said.
Hart never believed that he not committed a crime and would be arrested.
In the police interview, Hart claimed that he had disciplinary authority, which turned out to be untrue. He blamed the “stress” for being alone with the officer for the answer he gave.
The indictment alleged that Hart had “supervisory and disciplinary authority” at the high school while he was working there. Bedinger claimed that he only had to prove one or the other, but Patterson countered by saying that he had to prove both.
The jury foreman had announced Friday that they were spilt at “2-10,” in favor of acquittal, until a unanimous decision was reached Saturday morning.
Hart was offered a sentence of three years in prison and seven years probation in exchange for a guilty plea.