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James Strughold

Other False Convictions for Child Sex Abuse in Missouri
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On Friday, November 3, 1995, 53-year-old James Strughold spent his last day as principal at Mark Twain Elementary School in St. Louis, Missouri. On Monday, November 6, 1995, he started his new position as principal at Wilkinson School, a highly regarded elementary school also located in St. Louis.

The following day, during a discussion in a third grade class at Mark Twain about the Million Man March, the subject of showing emotion was discussed. An eight-year-old boy said that Strughold was showing emotion when he touched him on the arm. The teacher, Monica Johnson, said the boy’s comment triggered something in her mind. She asked the class for other examples of affection. One by one, encouraged by each other’s stories, three other students offered their own examples.

A boy said that Strughold had locked him in his office and showed him a “nasty” book. A girl said that Strughold told her to walk between his legs in order to “pump” her as if simulating having sex. Another boy said Strughold made him turn around while he was urinating in the restroom.

Johnson told the students to talk to their parents about the conversation and, at the end of the day, she reported what happened to Dr. Rosalyn Mason, the new principal at Mark Twain.

On November 8, 1995, the mother of one of the students came to see Principal Mason and expressed concern about Strughold’s behavior. The woman’s daughter, identified as J.B., said Strughold touched her buttocks and told her that he wanted to have sex with her.

Mason called the three other students into her office and all four students told stories about Strughold attempting to have sex with them. The statements were made to everyone present. Mason obtained written statements from the students and notified the police.

The children were interviewed by police and by social workers and ultimately by the St. Louis County District Attorney’s office. The interviews, testimony would later reveal, were suggestive and subtly coercive. They produced contradictory and patently incredible statements.

The statements got progressively more bizarre each time the children were questioned. Statements included “Mr. Strughold threatened me with a gun” (either a shotgun or a 9mm with a silencer and sixteen bullets); “Mr. Strughold shot at me;” “Mr. Strughold threatened to bomb my house;” “Mr. Strughold threw a bomb at my house;” “Mr. Strughold made me read ‘killer books,’ ‘ugly duck books,’ and ‘Mickey Mouse books’ in his office;” “Mr. Strughold told me he would help me cheat in spelling;” “Mr. Strughold videotaped [the third grade teacher] moving into her new house;” “Mr. Strughold had sex with [a school counselor], videotaped it, and showed my whole class;” and “Mr. Strughold is a serious and dangerous man.” One child said Strughold chased him into the outer office during school hours while naked. Another child said there was a live rabbit on the ceiling of Strughold’s office bathroom.

There were also accusations that were implausible or impossible. One girl said she had seen a videotape of Strughold removing the clothes of a girl named Dorothy, who in turn denied that happened. Another girl told the police she saw a video of a nine-year-old boy engaged in oral sex with Strughold—which the boy denied. A girl said that Strughold locked her in his office by putting a board through the handle of the door, which would not have barred the door because it opened inward.

One boy said that Strughold had rubbed his own penis, which was “straight and erect” and ejaculated on the boy’s abdomen. However, doctors stated this would have been impossible, since Strughold had a birth defect called hypospadias, which results in a curving and a shrinking of the penis. That, coupled with obesity and an anti-anxiety medication that causes decreased sexual desire, had left Strughold impotent.

A number of children claimed Strughold made them read pornography in his office. In fact, Strughold frequently had children read in his office; he stored K-5 reading level books in a box in his office. Students would come into his office, read for a while, tell Strughold about the book, and then receive a note from Strughold asking the child’s teacher to give the child book report credit.

On December 13, 1995, police searched Strughold’s home and found four magazines that displayed men and women in varying degrees of nudity and in a sexual context: a 1989 issue of Playboy, a 1989 swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated, a 1986 issue of Penthouse, and a 1977 issue of Playgirl.

That same day, Strughold was arrested and charged with 16 felony counts of first-degree sexual misconduct with a child, six misdemeanor counts of furnishing pornography to a minor, and two counts of third-degree sexual conduct with a child. The allegations involved a total of four children.

By the time Strughold went to trial in July 1997, the number of children alleging improper sexual conduct had risen to eight. At the trial, two boys testified that Strughold asked them to perform oral sex on him in his office. Some of the others testified that he fondled them over their clothing.

One boy said that Strughold masturbated onto the boy’s chest and threatened to handcuff him to a radiator if he told anyone what happened. Another boy testified that Strughold showed him pictures in a book titled “The Sex Machine.”

A different child testified that Strughold showed him “nasty books” containing pictures showing naked woman having sex with men. He said Strughold showed him a Playboy magazine and on another occasion, Strughold took a picture of the boy’s penis and threatened to kidnap him and have sex with him if he told anyone.

A girl said Strughold rubbed her buttocks and said he wanted to have sex on one occasion and on another, in his office, told her that he wanted her to fellate him. She said Strughold threatened to bomb her house if she told authorities.

Strughold’s defense attorney Albert Watkins, elicited testimony showing that the students had given incredible and wildly contradictory accounts that became more detailed and more graphic with each retelling. Some said Strughold, despite his obesity, could jump over cars and had tried to drive over them; one said there was a live rabbit on the ceiling of his office.

Watkins attempted to introduce evidence that the student’s teacher, Monica Johnson, who elicited the first statements from the children, had suffered serious brain-damage years earlier in a car accident. As a result of this accident, Johnson was hyper-emotional and susceptible to titillating tales, according to medical records. But the trial judge barred the defense from presenting the medical evidence or from cross-examining Johnson about her medical condition.

Strughold denied any improper conduct with any of the children.

On July 17, 1997, the jury acquitted Strughold of the felony charges and convicted him of six misdemeanor charges—two counts of sexual misconduct with a child and four counts of furnishing pornographic materials to a child. Strughold was sentenced to a total of six years in prison, but the sentence, except for 30 days in jail, was suspended.

In June 1998, the Missouri Court of Appeals reversed the convictions and ordered a new trial on five of the charges—one count of sexual misconduct with a child and four counts of furnishing pornography to a child. One count of sexual misconduct with a child was dismissed entirely. The court also ruled that the trial judge had erroneously barred the medical records and testimony about Monica Johnson’s car accident and brain damage.

Strughold, who had served his 30 days in jail, went to trial a second time and on August 6, 1999 he was acquitted.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 9/22/2015
State:Missouri
County:St. Louis
Most Serious Crime:Child Sex Abuse
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1995
Convicted:1997
Exonerated:1999
Sentence:30 days
Race:White
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:53
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No