Ex-teacher, child molester returns to seek new trial

tchitwood@ledger-enquirer.comMay 6, 2014 


Postponed March 27 because the defendant wasn't there, a new trial hearing for former middle school teacher and convicted child molester Cristina Preston is set for 9:30 a.m. today before Superior Court Judge Gil McBride.

Unlike in March, when authorities neglected to transport Preston, 46, from state prison to Columbus for her hearing, the defendant this time was brought here a week early.

Preston is serving a 25-year sentence after a jury last year convicted her of aggravated child molestation, child molestation, statutory rape and sexual assault on a person in custody.

Among the issues in her hearing today is whether during the trial the defense attorney effectively questioned the credibility of the teenaged student with whom Preston at age 44 carried on a months-long sexual affair.

Her attorney at the trial was Clark Adams. The attorney handling her appeal is former prosecutor Mark Post, whose motions filed Monday include these claims regarding Preston's June 2013 trial:

• The judge's instructions to jurors before they deliberated were "erroneous" and "harmful as a matter of law" to Preston.

• Her defense attorney should have had the court play all of the victim's recorded interview with law enforcement, including portions in which the student, after denying having sex with Preston, was subjected to "leading, suggestive and … coercive" questioning.

• The defense should have employed an expert in "forensic interviewing of children and adolescents" who could have identified the "improper techniques" investigators used to question the student.

• The defense failed to "investigate and present" relevant records regarding Preston's employment and the student's school conduct.

• The defense should have consulted an expert in "proper techniques for collection of physical evidence and crime scene examination."

• The defense failed to "identify evidence that would have cast substantial doubt upon the sexual acts which were alleged to have occurred on January 30, 2012, in the defendant's black Ford Explorer in Cooper Creek Park."

Testimony during Preston's trial showed she initiated the relationship on Halloween 2011, when the student was 13, by performing a sexual act on the boy inside a parked car.

The illicit affair ended the following Jan. 30 when deputies caught the two parked together at 12:42 a.m. in Cooper Creek Park, where Preston told the officers the student, then 14, was her daughter's boyfriend, whom she was giving a ride home.

Preston resigned the next day, after she was arrested. She had worked 19 years for the Muscogee County School District, most recently as a special education teacher at the middle school, where the boy was among her students.

During Preston's trial, the student testified that besides the sexual act on Halloween 2011 and intercourse in her Ford Expedition before deputies caught them in Cooper Creek Park, they had sex on these occasions:

• Once in the bedroom of what at the time was Preston's Springridge Drive home.

• Once on the ground after riding four-wheelers off Hancock Road, where she completely disrobed, but he did not.

• Once on Marion County "hunting land" belonging to her then-husband's family, where they rode four-wheelers before having sex in a 4-by-8-foot deer stand her family called "Cristi's Condo."

In pushing for Preston to get a new trial, Post has sought school district records dating from Aug. 1, 2009, to June 5, 2013, including the student's disciplinary reports, files related to his special education needs, and any evidence of "prior false allegations by said student, any act or occurrence of a sexual nature by said student, any record reflecting upon the motive of any witness or potential witness" against Preston.

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