Thursday, August 30, 2007

Former employee testifies at Hinton trial

Secretary claims she was disturbed by incidents

August 30, 2007
By Vic Vela
The Daily Record

Dueling testimony of Royal Gorge Academy staff members — one a former employee, the other the school’s current vice president — featured stark contrasts in knowledge of whether Randall Hinton had abused students at the school.

Meanwhile, the issue of religion created a momentary atmosphere of tension inside the Fremont County courtroom during day three of the Hinton trial.

A tearful, former Royal Gorge Academy employee testified Wednesday she believed Randall Hinton had assaulted students and that she decided to come forward with information in spite of being “scared” of potential repercussions.

Patty Pacheco, Hinton’s former executive secretary, said she had heard a former female student “screaming frantically and telling Randall to get off of her” during an incident the 17-year-old Highlands Ranch girl testified to Tuesday.

Pacheco also said Hinton’s demeanor disturbed her during a separate incident involving the 15-year-old Riverside, Calif., boy who testified Tuesday Hinton had “thrust” his head into a stairwell wall, causing the boy to suffer a black eye.

Pacheco said Hinton’s normally charismatic personality was far from that on the day of the alleged incident.

“He normally had a personality that made others want to be around him,” Pacheco said. “But, the look he had on his face when he took (the boy) up the staircase made me sick inside.”

The alleged incidents occurred in the fall of 2006.

It was Pacheco‘s complaint to the CaƱon City Police Department that began the Hinton investigation — one that began in late December 2006. In an affidavit following Hinton’s arrest, Pacheco reportedly told police “she cannot deal with the way the students are treated by Hinton any longer.”

Pacheco testified she and the defendant were friends and that “it was hard to believe that Randall would be capable of something like that.”

When asked by Fremont County Deputy District Attorney Thom LeDoux if she was hesitant to come forward with information regarding Hinton, she responded in the affirmative.

“There was a lot at stake,” she said. “I was afraid that no one would come forward, and I’d be by myself. Randall and I were friends, and that was not easy to do.”

However, Hinton’s attorney, Michael Gillick, tried to plant a seed of doubt in the minds of jurors during the cross examination in which Pacheco admitted she never actually witnessed Hinton abusing the students, only that she was nearby when the events took place.

Also, the issue of Hinton’s religion momentarily halted the jury trial. Judge Norman Cooling sent jurors away from the courtroom temporarily as Gillick claimed a comment made by Pacheco was “anti-Mormon.”

Answering a juror’s question related to earlier testimony, Pacheco said she was afraid to come forward with information early in the investigation out of fear for her job and “the people in Utah.”

With the jury gone, Gillick questioned the credibility of the witness, claiming that her own religious beliefs were clouding her ability to testify against Hinton, who is a Mormon.

“This witness, in her own extreme religious views, once marched in front of a theatre (protesting) when ‘The Da Vinci Code’ opened, handing out pamphlets.”

The movie, which opened last year, was criticized by the Catholic Church for its controversial interpretations of Christian history.

LeDoux urged the court to stay away from the issue of religion.

“It’s a tremendous leap to suggest the witness was referring to the Mormon religion in her answer,” LeDoux said.

Cooling agreed.

“We’re just taking a detour ere of the overall context of the question and answer,” the judge said.

Meanwhile, Academy Vice President Brian Lemons testified he had never witnessed Hinton abuse any child and also dismissed testimony provided Monday by a 17-year-old California boy who said Lemons had thrown a tissue at the former student while the boy was on the floor, covered in blood.

The boy testified the blood was caused by Hinton “smash(ing)” his face into the ground.

When Gillick asked Lemons if he had ever witnessed such an incident, Lemons replied, “No, never.”

Lemons also said no grievances had ever been filed against Hinton by any of the students.

When asked if it was sometimes necessary to restrain students, Lemons said it was.

“In order to keep them safe, we have to sometimes physically step in,” he said.

Hinton and Lemons founded the school, located at 615 Pike St., in February 2006. It is a boarding school for teenagers ranging from 13 to 17 years of age.

Hinton, the school’s project supervisor, faces seven counts of third-degree assault and two counts of false imprisonment — all misdemeanor charges that carry with them potential jail time.

Day four of the Hinton trial began this morning and will continue with defense witnesses throughout the day.

Hinton is expected to testify at some point in the trial, which is scheduled through Friday.

Vic Vela can be reached at