Concord teacher denies molesting students

A Contra Costa County prosecutor in a Martinez courtroom today portrayed a popular Concord elementary school teacher as a pedophile who became obsessed with certain male students, developed inappropriate relationships with them and tried to conceal his lascivious conduct.

Joseph Martin, 46, took the stand for the second day in Contra Costa County Superior Court today as the trial against him winds down.

The longtime fourth and fifth-grade teacher at Concord’s Woodside Elementary School is charged with 150 counts of lewd and lascivious acts against 14 of his former students.

After a 22-year teaching career, Martin was placed on administrative leave, investigated and arrested in the spring of 2013 following a parent’s report he had inappropriately touched her son.

Today Deputy District Attorney Derek Butts again asked the defendant about his close relationships with some of his male students. Two of the purported victims with whom he was especially close had similar backgrounds, including a lack of a strong male role model and major tragedies in their families, according to Martin’s testimony.

As with many of the accusers in the case, Martin spent extra time with the two boys outside of school – often having them over to his house and taking them on outings.

He gave both of the boys gifts, including a bicycle, and was physically affectionate with them, Martin testified.

In one incident, one of the boys was in a bathroom in the defendant’s home when he began crying about a death in the family and Martin kissed him on the cheek, he testified.

Dressed in a suit and tie and speaking calmly from the witness stand today, Martin again insisted there was no sexual intent behind the kiss or any of the frequent hugs, pats and backrubs he gave the boy as well as the 13 other purported victims.

The boys, most of whom are now teens, have testified at the trial that the teacher would slip his hand underneath their shirts and rub their chests and stomachs, and that they sometimes sat on his lap.

“Despite all of the attention you gave those boys, you ended up alienating them,” Butts told Martin.

Martin testified that he checked in with his students to make sure the hugs and other touches were ok with them. It wasn’t uncommon for the teacher to gauge his students’ feelings about him and any issues they might have with him via class meetings and surveys, he testified.

In one letter to his fourth-grade class, Martin wrote, “This is a personal letter just between you and me.”

“Did I ever hurt your feelings, upset you, or make you feel uncomfortable and we have not worked it out?” he wrote. “If I did that, please let me know what happened so that I can discuss it in private with you.”

Butts said the letters showed Martin’s concern “that they’re going to go home and tell their parents something,” which the defendant denied.

The jury also saw a survey Martin gave his class in 2011 in which he asked them to share any positive or negative comments they had heard about him from classmates, teachers or parents.

Martin testified that he distributed the survey because he thought a colleague was spreading rumors about him and wanted to know whether the students had heard them.

During another round of questioning, the defendant admitted to entering Google searches on his computer asking whether police could trace his Internet history and how he could erase past searches.

Some of the search queries included “If you watch a YouTube video is it downloaded to your computer?” and “Can the police look at my Internet history?”

Martin testified that he worried the searches would make him appear guilty.

His attorney, Patrick Clancy, has argued throughout the trial that Martin was always a well-liked teacher who became the victim of a school rumor mill that led to “mass hysteria” and a “witch hunt” that culminated in criminal charges.

Closing arguments are scheduled for Monday morning.