MARTINEZ -- On the day Joseph Martin was arrested in June 2013 on suspicion of molesting young boys in his Concord elementary school classroom, investigators searched his car and found a letter the fifth-grade teacher wrote to God.
"Dearest Father," the letter began, "Before this, I was living for myself only, I was living to gratify me, serve me and feed my sinful desires. I am a new man now and being that, I am so incredibly grateful ... Please God, help me to not get arrested, not go to jail, and in the name of Jesus, not be charged with any crimes."
Prosecutor Derek Butts shared the letter for the first time Monday morning during opening statements in the trial of the Woodside Elementary School teacher charged with 150 counts of molestation involving 14 students. Martin, 46, has pleaded not guilty in the case that has led to more than a dozen purported victims and their families suing the school district and its employees for their handling of Martin.
"Joseph Martin has a sexual attraction to young boys, a secret he's kept well-hidden," Butts told the jury. The prosecutor painted the picture of a popular teacher with an "unorthodox" teaching method that groomed and manipulated his students, colleagues and community to get access to young boys so he could fondle their chests and sometimes their groins during class.
Investigators found child pornography sites featuring young boys on Martin's computer, along with other questionable web searches, Butts told the jury. At the same time, the teacher wrote letters to his students, professing his love, his predilection to giving hugs and imploring them to keep visiting him even after they leave Woodside.
Martin's attorney Patrick Clancy told the jury his client was the victim of a "state of hysteria" that developed after boys started spreading rumors, parents fanned flames on social media, media spread misinformation and civil lawsuits were filed. He said one parent who planned to testify for Martin is "scared to death" to come to court because of the charged atmosphere from Martin's detractors.
Clancy told jurors Martin had an "innovative methodology" to his teaching with positive reinforcement that involved touching, always with permission. He stressed that the contact was only on the sternum and collarbone areas.
Magic Mornings, the morning parties with music, strobe lights and dancing, helped improve attendance and Martin's classes continually scored the highest in standardized testing, Clancy said. In fact, the attorney said the "sinful desires" mentioned in the letter to God seized by police was in reference to Martin's vanity for always wanting to be top teacher in the testing.
Clancy showed numerous handwritten letters from the boys who have accused him of molestation, all praising the teacher. The defense attorney said the child pornography visits on Martin's computer were done by a student and web searches for "boys on beach" were for a lesson plan.
In the afternoon, John Doe 1, now 14 and heading to high school, testified. Wearing a short sleeve collared shirt, the composed boy calmly stood and showed the jury how Martin touched him from grades four to seven. He testified that Martin would put his hand down his shirt and massage his nipples and stomach while he sat in front of him during circle time.
"I knew it was happening, but I didn't realize it was a bad thing because I was so young," the boy testified. Eventually, in early 2013, the boy told his mother about the touching, and she told the principal who went to police, launching the criminal investigation.
For the first time in the case, Butts identified inappropriate actions by Martin at a school other than Woodside. In the 1990s, the prosecutor said Martin kissed a Holbrook Elementary School student on the cheek outside the Concord school.
Also during that decade, Martin befriended a man in his Danville church and confided in him that he had fantasies about young boys, Butts said.
Despite his suspicious computer history, Butts said police found a 2006 letter to Integrity Online advising the organization that its filter did not catch certain child pornography websites, suggesting they "think like a horny teen and go searching for it."
As for the claims that boys only made allegations following the "hysteria," Butts said four of the 14 victims told their parents Martin put his hands down their shirts before any police investigation was launched, and the parents all "brushed it off."
Contact Matthias Gafni at 925-952-5026. Follow him at Twitter.com/mgafni.