MARTINEZ -- He acknowledged patting his students on the back, shoulder and collarbone. He said he gave them hugs, and sometimes even back and leg massages. But former Concord elementary school teacher Joseph Martin, taking the stand for the first time in his molestation trial, emphatically denied ever putting his hand down any former students' shirts.

When asked by his defense attorney Wednesday if he ever touched the nipples of any male students, Martin, in a gray suit, blue shirt and a dark tie, said: "No." He also insisted he never intentionally brushed up against any boys' groins, as accusers attest.

Joseph Andrew Martin  (Concord Police Department)
Joseph Andrew Martin (Concord Police Department)

Martin is charged with 150 counts of molestation involving 14 former male students, identified in court records as John Does. Several of them alleged he fondled their bare chests while they sat between his legs during circle time. Some of the boys allege he also would brush his hand against their groins while he grabbed books on their laps.

On Wednesday, Martin described how he would place students with learning disabilities, often boys, near him during circle time and would pat them to keep them on task.

"It was a natural part of my teaching," Martin testified, saying he learned it from his first grade teacher and mentor who did the same type of touching to keep him from daydreaming as a child.


Advertisement

He said on two occasions he accidentally touched students, one male and one female, in the groin and chest, respectively, and he apologized to them profusely.

Sparks began to fly when prosecutor Derek Butts aggressively cross-examined Martin, questioning the 46-year-old Martinez resident about a series of journal entries found in his car during a search warrant in which he 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."

The packed courtroom watched as Martin insisted his "sinful desires" were greed, by working late hours to earn extra money for his family; vanity, by always wanting to beat out other teachers in test scores; and his failure in keeping a close relationship with God.

In an entry in the journal written a day earlier, Martin wrote about his "darkest demons," and testified Wednesday that he was referring to a "poetic version of his depression."

Butts questioned how he could be depressed one day and the next have concerns about his vanity.

Butts shared a new letter found in the spiritual notebook, which included the line: "Joseph, I am protecting you from prosecution because I know that you will be mine." Butts asked if he meant criminal prosecution for child molestation, but Martin said, "No."

Butts asked Martin, who directed classroom video performances and has a history in drama, if he liked acting and if he had been rehearsing his testimony. "You've had a lot of time to think about this case," Butts asked. Martin agreed that he had thought about it a lot.

For most of the day defense attorney Patrick Clancy had Martin address claims by each of his accusers.

Speaking calmly to the jury, Martin described how he was an affectionate teacher, but one who would ensure students were comfortable with any touching, such as hugs. He said he wrote a psychology term paper at Cal State Hayward (now Cal State-East Bay) on the impact of human touch.

Martin twice got emotional, first when describing the death of his first grade teacher who had become a lifelong friend. Later, Martin cried as he recalled the death of one of his accuser's mothers, and how he vowed to take care of the boy after that.

It was that boy who was the center of a 2006 internal Mount Diablo school district investigation. Martin described the events that sparked the investigation, saying the boy was playing King Kong in a class performance and fell from his chair into the teacher's arms.

He sought to explain another incident where he mentored a student after his younger brother drowned, explaining that he innocently kissed the boy on the cheek as he was consoling him during an emotional meltdown.

Martin also discussed his time with a Danville church and its For Men Only group. The directors previously testified in court that the group was formed to handle sex and porn addictions and that Martin had confided that he was having sexual fantasies about young boys.

On Wednesday, Martin told the jury he thought he was joining a group that preached "sexual integrity" because he was in a Christian dating service that required no sex before marriage and he felt conflicted because he had been close to having sexual relations with a girlfriend at the time. He denied having fantasies about boys and said one of the directors tried to pressure him into saying he did.

"I felt verbally assaulted and painted as something I wasn't," Martin said.

He also said he has never visited child porn sites, despite a computer expert testifying he found such Internet history on his computer. The defense has said the sites could have accidentally popped up on Martin's computer.

Martin's testimony continues Thursday morning.

Contact Matthias Gafni at 925-952-5026. Follow him at Twitter.com/mgafni.