WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Former Boarding School Owner Seeks New Criminal Trial

Apr 12, 2018

Ben Trane is asking the court to grant him a new criminal trial. Trane was convicted last December of child endangerment, sexual exploitation by a counselor, and assault with intent to commit sexual abuse.  Prosecutors said he committed the crimes during his time in charge of Midwest Academy, which was a Lee County-based boarding school for troubled teens.

Trane’s new attorney, Alfredo Parrish, filed a motion for new trial in south Lee County District Court. In it, Parrish cites numerous reasons for the court to justify the granting of a new trial.

A.H.

Parrish’s motion focuses initially on an individual identified only as A.H., who did not personally testify in the trial. Instead, testimony was presented from A.H. without A.H. taking the stand.

“Prohibited and prejudicial hearsay testimony was presented from A.H. during the course of the trial that should have been prohibited by the state of Iowa, the court, and the defense counsel,” wrote Parrish.

“A directed verdict, mistrial or dismissal should have been granted as to the charge of child endangerment when A.H. failed to testify. No credible testimony was presented by the state of Iowa that should have survived Mr. Trane’s motion for directed verdict. A directed verdict should have been granted by the court. After the granting of the motion for directed verdict, the court should have entertained a motion to dismiss all the charges related to child endangerment regarding any other alleged victim. Due to the fact, the charge was presented to the jury without the testimony of A.H., the entire trial was contaminated depriving Mr. Trane of his constitutional right to a fair trial.”

Parrish also wrote that Trane should have had the opportunity to confront A.H. in court, which Trane did not because A.H.’s testimony was allowed without A.H. taking the witness stand.

Additional Claims

Another claim in Parrish’s motion is that the state did not provide Trane with its evidence against him in a timely manner.

“The state of Iowa deliberately delayed disclosure of discovery preventing Mr. Trane from timely preparing his defense,” wrote Parrish. “Although, the state had a hard drive of the discovery, it was not timely delivered to Mr. Trane. The state was attempting to force Mr. Trane to waive his right to a speedy trial and by delaying disclosure of discovery. This conduct deprived Mr. Trane of his due process rights…”

Parrish also raises concerns about the handling of the deposition of a witness identified only as K.S., who made an allegation of sexual abuse against Trane. He said no transcript was provided to the defense because the deposition did not occur until the day before Trane’s criminal trial began.

“Out of a total of approximately 1,900 young people who had been students as Midwest Academy, K.S. was the only student to come forward with any allegation of this nature. There was no physical evidence to support the allegation. There was no independent, non-biased witness corroborating testimony that Mr. Trane had ever been alone with the person making these allegations.”

Parrish states the defense should have been allowed to raise previous “false allegations of sexual allegations” regarding K.S.

The motion for a new trial also raises questions about the jury instructions, claims Trane was not allowed to call expert witnesses due to a lack of resources, and questions the decision to not sever the counts against Trane.

Parrish also wrote that Trane did not receive effective counsel, specifically that Trane’s attorney did not object to “prejudicial jury instructions” or to “substantial and prejudicial hearsay testimony,” move to sever the counts against Trane, or to obtain an expert witness on Trane’s behalf, among other actions.

“Each of these grounds separately are sufficient for the court to grant Mr. Trane a new trial, but also a combination of them denied Mr. Trane a fair trial,” wrote Parrish.

New Trial Request

Parrish told the court he will file a brief in support of the motion for a new trial, citing testimony during the trial and case law. He also would like the court to authorize the state to pay for Trane to subpoena witnesses “to assist with the presentation of his motion for new trial.”

“Four witnesses had been subpoenaed by the state of Iowa to testify,” wrote Parrish. “At the last minute the state changed its mind and decided not to call the witnesses. The state was fully aware that witnesses A.Y., B.H., J.S., and S.P. had favorable testimony for Mr. Trane. The state failed to timely notify the defendant that they were not calling the witnesses and failed to disclose to the defendant or the court that the reason the witnesses were not going to be called is because they were going to provide favorable testimony for Mr. Trane. The conduct of the state in failing to disclose this information was deliberate.”

The state of Iowa has yet to respond to Trane’s request for a new trial and the court has yet to set a hearing date for the request.

In the meantime, Trane is scheduled to be sentenced May 10. He faces up to nine years in prison following his convictions last December.

The court has received more than 75 letters from people all across the country who support Trane.