A judge today postponed a new-trial hearing for the former Veterans Middle School teacher convicted last year of charges stemming from a months-long sexual affair with a teenaged student.
One reason for the delay: Former teacher Cristina Preston, 46, was not in the courtroom for her hearing, nor even in Columbus.
Though the court issued an order for the state Department of Corrections to surrender Preston to Muscogee sheriff's deputies to transport to the county jail here before the hearing, the order apparently was never served.
So, no one brought Preston from the Pulaski State Prison in Hawkinsville, where she's serving 25 years for aggravated child molestation, child molestation, statutory rape and sexual assault on a person in custody.
McBride rescheduled the hearing for 9:30 a.m. May 7.
Representing Preston in her appeal is former prosecutor Mark Post, who is seeking Muscogee County School District records regarding the victim’s disciplinary and special-education reports, which may be in a box of evidence prosecutors discovered was never unsealed during Preston’s trial in June 2013.
Kelly surrendered the box Friday to McBride, who is to review the documents to determine whether they are relevant to Preston’s case.
Post filed a motion March 12 asking McBride to inspect the sealed records, which may include reports of the victim’s alleged misconduct at school, including “inappropriate sexual behavior” involving another student, he wrote.
Post also has asked McBride to order the school district to turn over any other relevant school records from Aug. 1, 2009, to June 5, 2013, including disciplinary reports, files related to the student’s 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.
Post said the files may contain evidence favorable to the defense in questioning the victim’s credibility. Post has not filed motions specifying other arguments for granting Preston a new trial.
Kelly told McBride the prosecution may have to seek a delay May 7 if Post files such motions at the last minute. Post said Kelly should get the defense filings at least two days before. Kelly likely will not need rebuttal witnesses for those the defense calls, Post said.
Testimony during Preston’s trial showed she initiated the relationship on Halloween 2011, when the student was 13, by giving him oral sex in a parked car. Their sexual encounters continued after the boy turned 14 five days later. Preston was 44 at the time, said Kelly.
The illicit affair ended Jan. 30, 2012, when deputies caught the two parked together in the dark at 12:42 a.m. in Columbus’ Cooper Creek Park, where Preston told the officers the student was her daughter’s boyfriend, whom she was giving a ride home, investigators said.
Preston resigned Jan. 31, 2012, the day after she was arrested. She had worked 19 years for the Muscogee County School District. She had been a special education teacher at the middle school, where the boy was among her students.
During Preston’s trial, the student testified that besides oral sex on Halloween 2011, they had intercourse in her Ford Expedition before deputies caught them in Cooper Creek Park, and 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.
During the trial, Cristina Preston’s then-defense attorney Clark Adams hammered on inconsistencies in the boy’s statements to police, and on investigators’ pressuring the teen to tell them all he knew. The more they pressured him, the more sexual encounters he added after initially denying them, Adams said.