Ex-Principal’s Porn Trial Begins

June 10th, 2009 by

BARTOW | The trial for a former Lakeland elementary principal accused of having child pornography started Tuesday with prosecutors describing the educator as having “hidden lust for children.”

Testimony continues today against John Stelmack, former principal of Scott Lake Elementary. He faces five counts of possessing child pornography. If convicted, he could get up to 25 years in prison.

In December 2007, five images were found in Stelmack’s office. The images depicted the heads of two underage girls superimposed onto the body of a nude 19-year-old woman posed in a lewd way, prosecutors said.

The images were found in a briefcase inside Stelmack’s locked closet in his office at Scott Lake Elementary.

The two children in the composite images have been identified as former students of Stelmack’s – a 12-year-old at Scott Lake Elementary and an 11-year-old at an elementary school in New York where Stelmack had been principal.

During opening statements, Assistant State Attorney Victoria Avalon asked the jury to think of the images as child pornography that Stelmack took the time to create with images that didn’t originally depict child pornography.

“This is a case about hidden lust for children,” she said.

The defense lawyer, Robert Gray, asked the jury to look at the situation differently. The images, he said, should not be considered child pornography because they do not depict the children in a sexual manner. He noted the nude body was of an adult pornographic model.

Gray also said the images could not be proved to belong to Stelmack because they had been found in an office that other people could access with keys, including his secretary and the assistant principal.

Gray also said that at the time the images were found, some disgruntled school employees were upset with Stelmack for how he chose to disperse bonus money – giving more money to classroom teachers and less to art, music and physical education teachers.

Stelmack, 62, was known for taking a lot of pictures at the school. He had purchased a camera to be used by school employees and himself to photograph students at events, Gray said.

At the time the images were found, Stelmack had been suspended while the School Board investigated complaints alleging he inappropriately hugged fifth-grade girls.

Candace Shim, a guidance counselor at Scott Lake Elementary, made some of the complaints against Stelmack. Shim testified Tuesday to seeing Stelmack inappropriately touching a fifth-grade female student in the cafeteria.

She said the girl stuck her hand in the front pocket of Stelmack’s pants and Stelmack placed one of his hands on her hand but did not appear to be removing her hand from his pocket.

Shim also testified to seeing Stelmack taking photos of the backside of one fifth-grade girl as she danced in the cafeteria as part of a reward activity for students who behaved well.

Stelmack started at Scott Lake Elementary at the beginning of the 2006 school year. He had previously been principal at an elementary school in Olean, N.Y. He has 24 years of experience in education, Gray said.

Stelmack was suspended on Dec. 14, 2006.

[ Shelley Rossetter can be reached at 863-802-7568. ]

The Ledger


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