Attorneys sparred over the relevance of a 15-year-old boy’s state of mind and family life to the trial of a Montgomery County middle school teacher facing child sex abuse charges Wednesday.
In his opening statements Tuesday, defense attorney Reginald W. Bours III began calling into question the reliability of the victim, a former student of his client, 51-year-old Cuyler J. Cornell. Bours again cited what he called the victim’s suicidal behavior and history with abuse after the victim made vague references during his testimony Wednesday.
Under questioning by Assistant State’s Attorney Ryan Wechsler, the victim alluded to his time spent in teen programs at the Potomac Ridge Behavioral Health Center. The Germantown teen also alluded to past abuse when Wechsler asked him why he had not originally reported Cornell’s abuse in the 2010-11 school year it was alleged to have begun.
“I was embarrassed that people might call me gay and pick on me,” the teen said. “… Because I was confused; this wasn’t the first time this has happened to me before.”
Bours argued, out of the presence of the jury, to be allowed to question the teen about the alleged prior abuse and the effect it may have had on his testimony. Bours hinted that the teen may have pressed charges against Cornell because of what happened to him previously.
“As a result of what was done to him, I believe that services may have been made available to him or resources made available to the family,” Bours said. “That may be the motive.”
Judge Robert A. Greenberg ultimately decided in favor of Assistant State’s Attorney Timothy Hagan’s arguments that, due to the scant evidence supporting the victim’s claims regarding prior abuse, the information was not immediately relevant to the trial. Bours’ questions to the witness about suicidal behavior also were quickly objected to and stricken when questioning resumed.
“Did you cut yourself in sixth grade?” Bours asked the victim at one point after the teen told him how he had struggled with depression early on in middle school when an older brother was put in jail.
Wechsler objected before the victim could reply and Greenberg told the jury to disregard the question.
Greenberg did allow Bours to question the victim about his family, including his brother’s incarceration and his mother’s statements to the victim and his sister regarding her hostility toward homosexuals. The victim had expressed a reluctance to report Cornell’s alleged abuse of him because his mother had threatened to kick him or his sister out of the house if she found out they were homosexuals.
Bours also attempted to discredit the victim’s testimony by pointing out inconsistencies between his statements to prosecutors.
The teen corrected statements he had made under Wechsler’s questioning about when the abuse began. The victim originally testified that the abuse began after summer school had ended, when he began meeting with Cornell to complete student service hours after Aug. 26, 2011. He later told Bours the abuse actually began Aug. 19 of that year.
“I know I said that but what I’m saying is I also went in [for service hours] on the weekend, like, on a Saturday,” the victim said after Bours pointed out an apparent inconsistency.
Once Bours presented a timeline with specific dates, the victim explained, citing details in several instances, what happened and under what circumstances on each day Bours questioned him about.
Cornell, who teaches seventh-grade English at Neelsville Middle School in Germantown, was arrested May 7 and charged with the sexual abuse of a minor and two counts of third-degree sex offense, according to court documents. He has remained on paid administrative leave from the school system since his arrest.