No one knows when former St. Martin Middle School bus driver Antioinette Jane Raymond will face criminal prosecution for the alleged assault on a disabled student, but it’s not happening this year, special prosecutor Mark Watts said.
And come January, even more delays are expected.
The first delay in setting a trial date for Raymond occurred because Watts and defense attorney Keith Pisarich could not come up with a date they were available that coincided with available trial dates before Judge Robert Krebs.
On Jan. 2, Watts — Jackson County’s longtime prosecutor — will be sworn in as the newly-elected County Court judge, replacing retiring Judge T. Larry Wilson.
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“I don’t think I can be a prosecutor and a judge at the same time,” Watts told the Sun Herald. “I don’t think I’d have the authority to do that.”
Watts said he may “punt” the case back to the District Attorney’s office, though it recused itself from prosecuting the case because of a potential conflict.
If the DA’s Office can’t take the case back for prosecution, Watts said he expects whoever is appointed to serve the remainder of his unexpired term to possibly be appointed to prosecute the case against Raymond. When that would happen isn’t clear.
A Jackson County grand jury indicted Raymond on misdemeanor charges of contributing to the delinquency, abuse or neglect of a child and simple assault for the alleged attack on special needs student, then 14, in the 2014-15 school year.
Ex-St. Martin Middle School special education teacher Kerri Anne Nettles was indicted on similar misdemeanor charges in the case, but Judge Kathy King Jackson had already sentenced her. In Nettles’ case, the judge followed the state recommendation and gave her a six-month suspended prison sentence and fined her $3,000.
Watts had recommended fines and a suspended prison sentence for Raymond as well, but after Krebs watched video surveillance footage of the encounter, he told Raymond he had no intention of following the prosecutor’s recommendation.
That’s when Raymond decided she wanted to go to trial.
The delays are overwhelming for Thomas Pearce, grandfather of the student who suffered the alleged attack. He’s also gone on record expressing that he’s upset over the charges being misdemeanor offenses despite what happened to his granddaughter.
Pisarich later tried to get Raymond’s case back before Jackson because she followed the state recommendation in sentencing.
Krebs denied that request.
Judge Dale Harkey is handling the civil litigation.
The Sun Herald broke the story on the assault in April that included exclusive video footage of the teacher threatening the student and stuffing a towel in her mouth to keep her quiet.
In other footage, Raymond threatens to send the girl to jail, choke her and kill her if she doesn’t shut up and stop moving around in her seat on the school bus. At one point during the footage, Raymond and the teacher heard the girl say what they believed to be profanity.
Raymond raced over to the girl’s seat and sat on her lap.
“Now, go ahead, move, move,” Raymond shouts. “Can you move now? Huh? You going to shut that mouth, huh?, You going to holler anymore?
“You do it again, I’m going to warn you again. You better shut your mouth. You hear me? You hear me?”
The student later calls out for her Paw Paw and says she wants to go home. Raymond told the girl her family was gone.
In the aftermath of the Sun Herald report on the assault, the Jackson County School District changed many of its policies to address any other such incident.
The school district did not report the assault to the state Department of Education despite a mandate to do so.