The student who claims he had a sexual affair with his former teacher said he ended the relationship because she said she wanted to marry him.
"I was kind of feeling smothered," the alleged victim, who is now 18, testified in Randolph County Circuit Court Wednesday. "She told me that she wanted to marry me."
The 18-year-old, who was 15 when he allegedly had sexual intercourse with his former teacher, Autumn Rae Faulkner, was the first witness to take the stand on day one of Faulkner's two-day trial. He said that despite its intensity in November and December of 2008, his sexual relationship with Faulkner, 29, of Beverly, fizzled out in February 2009 because he was overwhelmed by her expectations - especially that of marriage.
The Inter-Mountain photo by Katie Kuba
Autumn Rae Faulkner and her attorney Rocco Mazzei listen to the prosecution’s arguments in the Randolph County Circuit Courtroom Wednesday, day one of the two-day trial.
Faulkner is charged with three felony counts of third-degree sexual assault and three felony counts of sexual abuse by a custodian or person of trust to a child. She was arrested in March 2009 by Sgt. A.S. Loudin with the West Virginia State Police for allegedly having sexual relations with her former student on three separate instances from December 2008 to February 2009.
In his testimony Wednesday, the student said he first got to know Faulkner when he was in seventh grade and she was his social studies and homeroom teacher. Although he had no contact with Faulkner outside the classroom that year, he began communicating with her via the social networking website MySpace in eighth grade and would "always talk to her when [he] was having trouble with anything" during school hours.
When the student entered ninth grade and got a cell phone, the two began text messaging in fall 2008 when he was 15 - sometimes "200 times a day," he told Special Prosecuting Attorney Steve Jory.
"We would talk about my problems or her problems, whether we was having a good day or a bad day," the student said. Over the course of their communications, Faulkner told him she was having problems with her husband, Scott Faulkner. Between fall 2008 and Christmas of that year, the text messaging increased in frequency and although the two had previously "flirted" with each other, they began discussing having sex - and eventually made plans to do so, the student said.
"She asked me what I wanted for Christmas, and I said her, and she said that she could make that happen," the student testified. So on Dec. 21, 2008, the student told his father that he and Faulkner were going Christmas shopping together so she could help him pick out a Christmas gift for his mother. Instead, the two went to Faulkner's house and "talked for a little bit because I was really nervous," and then went into her bedroom to have sexual intercourse, the student said. Shortly after, Faulkner took him home and he immediately called his close friend, Travis Scott, to report the news.
"I wanted to tell him," the student testified. "I was excited."
"So what did you tell him?" Jory asked.
"I told him I had sex with Mrs. Faulkner," the student said. The student testified that he and Faulkner had sex on two subsequent occasions - the first of which happened Feb. 1, 2009, Super Bowl Sunday, at Faulkner's house. The student claimed that Faulkner was at Journeez Bar with several other teachers, when she went into the bathroom to call him to make plans to meet up. Faulkner then picked the student up at halftime and took him to her house, where the two had sex on the couch, he said.
Two weeks later, Faulkner picked him up again and the two drove out to a back road in Beverly and had sex in the front passenger seat of her car. The student said that the text messaging relationship continued for "probably a couple weeks" but came to an abrupt halt in late February after he began to feel "smothered."
In his opening statement, Faulkner's attorney, Rocco Mazzei, described the Faulkner case as a "he-said-she-said case with a whole lot of text messages going between a teacher and her former student."
"The only problem is, you will not hear any content of those text messages," he said. "There's no fingerprint evidence, no DNA evidence to corroborate this young man's story, there are no witnesses to corroborate his story."
Mazzei also pointed out that the alleged victim didn't initiate the complaint - and did not take the issue to an adult immediately the alleged encounters took place. During cross-examination, the defense attorney questioned the student about his pre-trial consultations with Jory, the prosecuting attorney. The student said that during one hour-long meeting, Jory was "asking him questions to help refresh my memory."
"So some of the testimony today was what you were helped to remember?" Mazzei inquired.
"Some of it," the student replied.
Mazzei said, "It sounds like you bragged to your friends about having sex with your teacher ... and that it is hard to admit that maybe something didn't happen?"
"I know it happened," the student retorted.
Jory pointed out that during his meetings with the student, he was merely reviewing the questions he would be asking, which is a standard form of pre-trial preparation.
The jury also heard testimony from one of the alleged victim's closest friends, Travis Scott. Scott testified that he noticed a change in the relationship between Faulkner and his friend after the student got a cell phone.
"Before, the three of us [Scott, the alleged victim and Faulkner] would hang out - we went to the movies one time - and then something changed," Scott said. "They (the alleged victim and Faulkner) started talking more. Once it carried on to his freshman year, I noticed it was not a normal student-teacher relationship."
"I remember we was in my room and he was talking to her (over text message) and she asked him what he wanted for Christmas and she said something like 'we can work something out,'" Scott continued.
Scott said his friend and Faulkner met up several days later "to exchange Christmas presents" - and that the his friend immediately called him to tell him he had sex with Faulkner.
"He said 'you won't believe it' and I was like 'no way' and he said, 'yeah, we'll talk about it more when you get home," Scott testified.
During cross-examination, Mazzei asked Scott if he'd ever seen Faulkner have sex with his friend.
"You have no first-hand knowledge that you know of to show that they did [have sex]," Mazzei said. "You only heard what [the alleged victim] told you. You didn't see anything. You were never a witness to any of these three allegations, correct?"
"Correct," Scott replied, but added that he was "almost positive" he saw Faulkner pick his friend up prior to their second alleged tryst.
The prosecution called Loudin - who works in the state police's Crimes Against Children Unit and is the case's investigating officer - as their final witness. Based on his extensive review of AT&T telephone records, Loudin testified that the text messaging between Faulkner and the alleged victim began on Sept. 14, 2008 and ended Feb. 27, 2009. The officer said that of the 167 days that elapsed between those dates, Faulkner and her former student texted each other 105 of those days. Loudin said that the two texted 21 out of 30 days in November and 31 out of 31 days in December.
Loudin testified that Faulkner sometimes sent the alleged victim text messages as early as 5 or 6 a.m. and continued to text him throughout the school day when she was teaching and he was in class - for instance, sending him as many as 150 text messages during school hours Dec. 10, 2008.
During cross-examination, Mazzei argued that frequent text messaging wasn't indicative of an inappropriate or sexual relationship - especially since Loudin and the prosecution had no way of knowing what the text messages said.
"You don't know the content of the text," Mazzei maintained. "You don't know if it was about sex or football or algebra homework ... Other than these undescript text messages, you have no direct physical evidence to corroborate what this young man said."
"Correct," Loudin replied.
Mazzei also questioned why Loudin would arrest Faulkner when the only evidence he had obtained was a statement from the alleged victim. Loudin countered that he had secured an arrest warrant from a magistrate who found probable cause - and that he didn't want to wait due to Faulkner's position of authority over children.
"We don't wait when it's a school teacher in charge of hundreds of other children," Loudin said. "I can't just wait for something to come along and as a parent, I would want the same done if my child was in the same position [as the alleged victim]."
Loudin testified that he had seized Faulkner's bed and couch in an attempt to obtain DNA evidence to corroborate the student's story. However, not all parties involved - Faulkner, the alleged victim and Faulkner's husband, Scott - were willing to give samples of hair and/or semen - something that must happen if DNA testing is to occur.
"You didn't want her (Faulkner) to submit to that search warrant," the officer told Mazzei.
"I had to have Autumn's [DNA] and her husband's and [the alleged victim's] in order for them to proceed with DNA testing."
Mazzei asked Loudin if he felt it was a "conflict of interest" that the alleged victim's uncle is - like Loudin - an officer with the West Virginia State Police.
"Didn't that influence you a little bit?"
"Not at all," Loudin answered. "Being a nephew of a trooper made no difference to me.
"I don't want to send anyone to prison who didn't commit a crime, and I'm not going to compromise not doing my job and losing my job because it's a trooper's nephew."
The defense begins its arguments at 9 a.m. today.
Contact Katie Kuba by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.