Jurors felt youth prison official was guilty but were swayed by ex-cop, lack of physical evidence

John Paul Hernandez

The Associated Press has an interesting follow-up about the trial of John Paul Hernandez, who was acquitted of charges that he sexually molested five inmates at the West Texas youth prison where he served as principal.

Basically, according to the AP, many jurors felt Hernandez was guilty, but they were persuaded by an ex-cop who raised questions about whether prosecutors had proven their case beyond a reasonable doubt, given that there was no physical evidence:

Nancy Gray told The Associated Press that the officer “did a lot of talking” about reasonable doubt to the eight who believed John Paul Hernandez was guilty when deliberations started.

“A lot of people changed their minds because he kept saying, pressing the point, that he had to be guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,” said Gray, who was the last to agree to the not guilty verdicts. “I was the holdout, all the way through. It was hard. That’s why it was very emotional for me.” …

Gray said jurors “absolutely” would have thought differently had there been physical evidence. Prosecutors presented no DNA, no fingerprints and no hair samples to back up the former inmates’ stories, though the jury believed each man had testified truthfully about having been abused by Hernandez.

Gray said deliberations grew testy at times and she unloaded her sentiments on the other jurors.

She said she told them: “‘You know this bastard is guilty’ and I was bawling. These boys are going to live with this the rest of their lives. Maybe they’ve done some bad things, but they didn’t deserve what happened to them.”

The Odessa American reports that nine of the 12 jurors initially wanted to convict Hernandez. And the AP says the verdict left one of Hernandez’s alleged victims stunned:

“I can’t believe this happened,” the young man, now 26, said in an e-mailed statement through his attorney. “What Mr. Hernandez did to me ruined my life. I told the jury the truth, and now I’ll never be able to get over what happened. When I broke the law, I went to TYC. When he broke the law, there was no consequence.”

—  John Wright

UPDATE: Ex-Texas prison official acquitted of charges he sexually abused young male inmates

John Paul Hernandez

John Paul Hernandez, the former Texas youth prison official whose trial we told you about last week, was acquitted of all charges late Monday. The Austin American-Statesman reports:

John Paul Hernandez was found not guilty on 14 counts alleging he molested five boys in 2004 and 2005 after a jury deliberated for six hours, following two weeks of testimony. Prosecutors declined to comment.

A second defendant accused of molesting boys at the West Texas State School in Pyote, former assistant superintendent Ray Brookins, was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison last year.

“Six years I’ve been waiting to hear those words,” Hernandez was quoted by The Associated Press in a story filed early this morning. “I’ve already served a six-year punishment and finally a weight has been lifted.”

—  John Wright

Ex-principal of TX youth prison denies he gave inmates blow jobs, promised them birthday cake

John Paul Hernandez

The former principal of a West Texas juvenile prison testified Thursday that five male inmates who accuse him of sexual abuse made up the allegations in a possible attempt to get released from the facility.

John Paul Hernandez, 45, is on trial for 11 counts of abusing the inmates, including sexual assault. Hernandez’s former assistant at the West Texas State School in Pyote, Ray Brookins, was sentenced to 10 years in prison on similar charges last year. The abuse scandal led to an overhaul of the Texas Youth Commission.

Hernandez and Brookins allegedly gave the young male inmates candy and promised them birthday cake in exchange for abusing them. In some cases, the inmates were threatened with retaliation if they didn’t go along. Hernandez and Brookins would summon the inmates from their dorms late at night and take them to ball fields and darkened classrooms to carry out the abuse, according to a 2005 report by the Texas Rangers.

When authorities searched Brookins’ state-owned house at the school, they found a 16-year-old living there along with hundreds of pornographic videos, magazines and various sex toys.

All five of the inmates testified against Hernandez this week during his trial. Prosecutors are continuing their cross-examination of Hernandez today.

—  John Wright