On Monday July 20th 2009, Michael Pratt, the former LDS seminary leader at Lone Peak High School in Highland, Utah, appeared in 4th District Court to be formally presented with 21 felony charges that stem from allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct with a 16-year-old student at the Lone Peak High School seminary program of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Additional story published by the Salt Lake Tribune.
The charges were first raised during his previous court appearance on Friday July 17th, when Pratt appeared in 4th District Court in Provo. They consist of 10 counts of forcible sodomy, seven counts of object rape and two counts of rape — all first-degree felonies. He was also charged with two second-degree felonies of forcible sex abuse. He remains free on $20,000 bail which was granted during his first hearing on July 13th as reported by the Deseret News (Jul 13) and KSL Channel 5 (Jul 13); the other conditions of bail included turning over an external hard drive and his laptop computer issued to him by the LDS seminary to detectives, and agreeing not to go near his former seminary office or near a mine in Eureka where some of the alleged sexual abuse took place.
Conviction on all charges could result in life in prison.
Police arrested Pratt July 9th after they received information that he had allegedly been checking the girl out of school without her parents' permission and taking her to various locations for sexual encounters. These locations are all specified in my previous post. The alleged sexual abuse began May 8th and continued until June 25th. The investigation also revealed hundreds of text messages sent between the two, including some that were sexually explicit.
Pratt's only public reaction so far was at his very first court hearing on July 13th, when he said, "I am hopeful that the truth will be fully presented at the appropriate time," During the July 20th hearing, a number of supporters of Pratt showed up. Former students came to court to show their love and support, and said their lives have been changed by Pratt's teaching. "We weren't here to find out the facts," student Sierra Huddleston said. "We were here to support and that won't change."
In the comments section to the July 20th Deseret News story, Sierra Huddleston came under some fire for her seemingly-uncritical expression of support. So she posted a clarifying comment (typos left intact):
Sierra Huddlston | 11:57 a.m. July 20, 2009
I was there this morning- Let me restate what I said- I DO NOT support his actions and negative choices. that should be obvious. He has a long hard road ahead. However, He was my teacher this past sememster- and the man I knew still has the same heart. he taught truth and that doesnt change. I support him in fixing this, I support him with prayer and fasting and beleiving him. Its terrible, sad, and wrong, but I knew this man-HE CHANGED life for my brother and I. I would be in a very different place in life without him. Do not twist my words and have a little faith in a human man who made a mistake.
Pratt qualifies for a court-appointed defense attorney because he lost his job after the allegations surfaced. He also supports a wife and three children and has no equity in his rental home. He has not yet entered a plea. The case will now be transferred to Judge Christine Johnson in the American Fork Justice Court, where his next hearing is scheduled for August 18th at 8:30 A.M. He will probably enter a plea at that time.
Upon Pratt's initial arrest, the LDS Church immediately removed him from his position as seminary leader. However, it is unlikely they will take action against his Church membership until he either pleads guilty or is convicted, although they might pull his temple recommend. The LDS Church does not customarily publicize the results of disciplinary council hearings. While the circumstances do indeed look damning, the presumption of innocence remains in effect. But what I can't understand is why Pratt - or any other teacher - would take a kid out of school on his own authority in the first place. If Pratt is innocent, then he was incredibly naive.