Jury deliberations will resume Friday morning in the criminal trial of Ben Trane. He is the former owner of Midwest Academy, a shuttered boarding school in Lee County for troubled teens, who is charged with sexual abuse and child endangerment.
The case was presented to the jury at about 3:45 Thursday afternoon. Jurors met for an hour before informing District Court Judge Mark Kruse that they wanted to go home for the night.
Kruse told them to return at 8:30 am Friday.
Day 8 of the trial began with Trane back on the witness stand for cross examination.
Asst. Iowa Attorney General Denise Timmins questioned Trane for 75 minutes. She started off by having Trane review a report about the first few days at the school for a 12-year-old boy.
The school’s out-of-school suspension log showed that the student spent his first 36 hours in an isolation room. The student was released for about 12 hours before returning. The log stated that all of the boy’s clothes were taken from him the second time so he could not harm himself with them.
Trane repeatedly told Timmins that he had no reason to doubt that happened because it was on the OSS log, but he said he was not aware of that occurring.
Trane testified that he did not have the final say on actions at the school, even though he was the owner of Midwest Academy. He also said his statement to law enforcement officers that he made up the rules for the school was “taken out of context.”
Timmins asked Trane about his decision to take female students to Victoria’s Secret on several occasions. Trane said the girls wanted to go so he let them, adding that he paid for items if they did not have any money. “It looks bad,” said Trane when asked about the optics of him purchasing items at Victoria’s Secret for teenage girls.
Trane also questioned the testimony of Jenny Richardson with DHS from earlier in the trial.
Richardson said she saw Trane at the Victoria’s Secret with students on Dec. 22, 2015, after he told a DHS co-worker he would avoid contact with the school’s female students. Trane said he believed he was with his family that trip, not students from the school.
“I can’t be sure I had kids there that day,” said Trane.
Timmins also had Trane read the greetings letter from Midwest Academy that was sent to parents, in particular a section on zero tolerance for acts of physical violence. She asked him why he admitted two 12-year-old boys, at the center of the child endangerment charged, who had a history of physical violence.
Trane said he was not fully aware of their backgrounds. He did testify that he felt the methods employed by Midwest Academy improved both of their lives and that he believed the students were capable of following the rules, so he said they chose to spend more than 50% of their time at the school in isolation.
Trane also told Timmins that the anonymous sexual activity surveys that were entered into evidence “re-appeared” just a couple days before law enforcement officers raided the school in early 2016. He said he did not know how that happened.
The issue of the firing of Cheyenne Jerred was raised several times Thursday morning. Trane said he recommended she not be fired, but that program director Devon Dade terminated her employment.
Jerred was the first person to report the sexual abuse allegations from a female student against Trane to the Iowa Department of Human Services. She won a $750,000 wrongful termination lawsuit against the school, but that has not been brought up during the trial.
Trane stepped down at about 9:55 a.m. and the defense rested its case.
Timmins and Trane’s attorney, Lisa Schaefer painted much different pictures for the jury during their closing arguments.
Timmins said Trane “used his power and control at the school to abuse, exploit and endanger.”
She asked the jurors to remember how they felt when Trane’s accuser testified about the nearly dozen times Trane allegedly sexually abused her. “She gave the details of that as well as she could,” said Timmins. “He controlled every aspect of her life.”
Timmins also said that Trane was in charge, no matter what he said during his testimony.
“I hope you do not buy that the defendant was not involved,” said Timmins. “He took credit for every good thing at the school, but everything that was not was someone else’s fault.”
Timmins also told the jury that “Trane may not have shut the door to the OSS room, but it was his rules that kept students in there.”
Schaefer used her closing argument to sum up the case as a “He Said/She Said” trial.
She said Trane’s accuser was mad at Trane because she was not allowed to take an off-campus visit with her sister. She said her anger led her to allege that Trane did things to her, comparing it to a roller coaster.
“[The student] made some statements because she is mad and trying to get back at him,” said Schaefer. “Everyone takes it more seriously than she expects, so she continues the ride. She started a series of events that she could not stop.”
Schaefer described the sex surveys and the trips to Victoria’s Secret as “incredibly stupid red herrings” meant to distract from the fact that her client denied sexually abusing a student.
“Every event she described, there are people around,” said Schaefer. “Is he going to take the chance of getting caught with people nearby? Is he really going to take that kind of chance? Common sense says no.”
Schaefer also attempted to address the claims that Trane knew what was going on in the isolation rooms just because he owned the school.
“Because he is at the top of the pyramid, he is supposed to know everything going on,” said Schaefer. “I have five people in my household and I never know what is going on.”
Both attorneys asked the jury to use their common sense to reach much different verdicts.