WILKES-BARRE — The closest a Hanover Area student got to Edward Evans’ bedroom was the doorway, where the suspended teacher said he retrieved pamphlets with information about confidential medical concerns for his guest.
Evans, on trial for institutional sexual assault, testified in his defense Tuesday that he sought the privacy of his home to discuss the student’s concerns on the afternoon of March 10, 2013.
“I did not have sex with him,” Evans said.
His testimony was in stark contrast to the student’s, who earlier in the courtroom of Luzerne County Judge Michael Vough, described Evans’ bedroom as having a large, flat-screen television and a queen-size bed where the pair undressed, kissed, performed oral sex on one another and masturbated.
The jury that will begin deliberations today will have to determine who is the more credible of the witnesses, as attorneys on both sides attempted to poke holes in the testimony of the suspended teacher and the 19-year-old student, who recently graduated.
Evans, 34, 0f Hanover Township, son of school board president Evelyn Evans, was charged in January under recent changes to a previous law, under which it now is a felony offense for teachers or coaches to have a sexual relationship with a student older than 16.
Evans admitted he incorrectly told police and school administrators that the student contacted him about meeting. “I actually messaged him and said, ‘Hey are you free?’”
The student said he initially did not tell the truth to school administrators and police about having sex with Evans. “I lied to save his job,” the student said. He added that Evans picked him up and drove him home in his car. On the ride home, the student said Evans told him, “Don’t kiss and tell.”
Hanover Township Police Detective Sgt. Dean Stair told the jury he closed out the investigation after first speaking to Evans and the student and they said nothing happened between them. But police were called back by the school in December 2013 after a personnel grievance involving Evans, and re-interviewed the student who changed his story.
Defense attorney William Ruzzo questioned the thoroughness of Stair’s investigation, focusing on the detective’s admission that he did not check into a conflicting statement made by the student.
The student said he told his guidance counselor the day after going to Evans’ house that the teacher gave him hickeys on his neck. Stair said the student told him a man named “Dave” gave him the hickeys and provided a phone number that the detective did not call.
“It wasn’t contradictory to me,” Stair said, because the student was consistent in his statement with the detective about the hickeys.
Ruzzo produced two other witnesses, Danielle Chesney, a worker at the Panera Bread restaurant in Wilkes-Barre Township.
She said she overheard the student tell other patrons, “Ha ha, I got that bitch fired.” Chesney said she did not know the student but a friend of hers did. The witness said she knew Albert Podminick, a friend of Evans, and told him of the comment.
Podminick told the jury that he is co-owner with Evans of the Venture Lounge, a bar on the Sans Souci Parkway that caters to the local LGBT community. He also knew the student, but hasn’t had much contact with him in approximately a year-and-a-half.
Podminick, of Kingston, said the student called him on March 11, 2013, screaming hysterically from the principal’s office that, “They accused him of having sex with Mr. Evans.”
The student said he lied, saying that he had sex with Evans, because “he wanted to feel important,” Podminick said.
Podminick’s next call was to Evans, asking him what was going on. Evans knew nothing about it, Podminick said.
During questioning by assistant district attorney Jenny Roberts, Podminick said the student later texted him and asked to be picked up. The two went to Podminick’s house and talked, he said. Podminick told a private investigator for the defense that he picked up the student, but never told police about it.
Evans acknowledged seeing the student in the hallways and school and speaking to him so no one else could hear their conversations about HIV testing.
Roberts set up one of her last questions for Evans by holding up an envelope, asking him if knew what was inside. He replied that he did not.
Her point? No one could have seen the contents if Evans had handed the young man an envelope containing literature about sexually-transmitted diseases.
Roberts then asked why Evans didn’t simply put the pamphlets about HIV testing in an envelope and hand it to the student in the school hallway.
Evans answered that the student could be “irresponsible” and drop it on the floor.
So instead, Evans took the student home to give him the pamphlets that were kept in the bedroom, Roberts said.
“Not to do what I’m being accused of,” Evans said.