June 30, 2008 6:54 PM
Question about what details belong in teacher-student sex story
An upset reader wrote an impassioned critique of our coverage of the verdict in the trial of a teacher convicted of having sex with a 16-year-old student, arguing that we shouldn't have included details of the crime. The end result of our e-mail exchange was what I thought was a good dialogue that made me reflect on how one of our core values, "compassion," should be applied in such cases.
Here's the entire story.
Teacher guilty of sex with student
Date: Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Source: By Sue Lindsay, Rocky Mountain News
A Jefferson County jury took less than two hours to convict high school band teacher William Eisenman of having a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old student that included a threesome at a hotel during last year's All-State Jazz Festival.
Eisenman, band director at Evergreen High School, lured the girl into the relationship by telling her that he had a heart condition and would be dead in a year, prosecutor Dana Easter told the jury during closing arguments Tuesday.
Eisenman, 33, was convicted of sexual assault by a person in a position of trust as a pattern of conduct for a three-month relationship he had last year with the girl, an orchestra member at Evergreen High.
Eisenman was led off in handcuffs after his bail was set at $100,000. He faces a minimum of eight to 24 years in prison when he is sentenced Aug. 19.
Defense attorneys said they would appeal.
Prosecutors charged that Eisenman had sex with the girl at least 21 times.
"She did things that no 16-year-old girl should even know about, much less do," Easter said.
But defense attorney Lee Harrell said the girl was infatuated with her teacher and her account was a fantasy concocted when she learned he had a sexual encounter with her best friend.
Here's the e-mail I received.
In regards to your report on the Bob Eisenman Trial:
Shame on you.
Although you have the legal right to print this information, that doesn't mean that you should. I understand that it was a public trial. I understand that you didn't use the girl's name. That doesn't mean she can't be identified; especially by people who already know her or go to school anywhere near Evergreen.
Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should.
As a student of the Evergreen Music Program, I know that I speak for many of us when I say that we are appalled at this newspaper's utter lack of discrepancy and respect. You could have reported this story and omitted the private details.
Once again, sensationalism has proved more important than privacy or respect.
I guarantee this will not be the last time you hear about this. There are many more of us out there that find your morals and professionalism to be lacking at best.
The Rocky Mountain News clearly has lost all pretense of journalistic integrity.
Frankly, the e-mail came at me from out of the blue. This had been a small story in the paper and any discussion of how to report it hadn't made it to my desk. So I responded this way:
Thank you for taking the time to share your concerns. I appreciate you challenging our approach to this story. But frankly it would be helpful if you could be more specific. What private details went too far? I wasn't at the trial. Perhaps you attended the whole thing. But my reading was that we left a great deal out. I'd also be interested in understanding better the issue of identification. Are you saying that people at the school didn't know who the victim was and now do because of our story? Or are you saying that others would know who she was as a result of our story?
In re-reading the story, I wouldn't have a clue who she was. I'm not sure how anybody at the school would either.
And here's the response I got back:
To begin with, I would like to thank the staff of the Rocky Mountain News. I saw that much of the article had been revised and shortened.
However, in regards to the issue of identification, let it first be known that the student in question was a dear friend of mine. She was quite popular , and in a community as small as Evergreen, she and her family were quite well known. To be frank, Mr. Temple, most people in Evergreen knew of the case, and knew exactly who was involved. As such, with the publication of the articles, many issues that should have remained private became public. Though I and many others knew that this was indeed a very serious issue, none of us were quite prepared to read the article and find out details such as:
A. How many times
B. Where the assaults occurred.
C. The details concerning a "threesome" with another man in a Greeley hotel room.
With the publication of this article in The Rocky Mountain News, people who knew the victim even casually are now knowledgable about details that the victim and her family would have preferred to have been kept quiet.
I will repeat that the article, since I last checked it, was indeed revised and shortened. And make no mistake, on behalf of the student in question and many others, we are grateful for that. However, we still feel that the article could have been treated with more delicacy and respect. The story should not have been ignored. However, it could have been handled in such a way where more sensitive details were left out, instead focusing mainly on the trial itself, vague and brief background information, or potential sentencing.
I will also admit that much of what I wrote was written in anger. My friend approached us and others with tears in her eyes when she read the article. My comments were written shortly afterward. She wept over the fact that these details were now known. Not known to many outside of the Evergreen community, granted, but they were still known.
I thank you for responding to my concerns, and again, also thank the staff for revising the article. However, many of us would appreciate it if in the future, more discretion was used when reporting on the details of the rape of a minor.
Here's how I responded.
Thank you for your response. These are tough issues. I will tell you that my experience is that in many such cases even when there's a conviction the seriousness of the crime is discounted or the victim still really isn't believed. I think that's one of the reasons detail is necessary. The crime has to become real. Now, that said, it doesn't mean there aren't tough questions where to draw the line about what to disclose and we will benefit from hearing about our decisions this way.
Ultimately, we have to weigh a number of things when deciding what to print in such cases. We're often criticized for not reporting both sides of a story. In this case, if we didn't include some of the details, it would be impossible to report the position of the accused. It's my understanding that the district attorney's office actually put out a press release about the trial with a lot of detail. Our goal is not to be prurient or salacious. Our company's code of ethics says of compassion that it means "having concern for those whose lives we touch as journalists." To me the best way to ensure that is to make sure we have a newsroom where such matters are discussed, where we talk about how far a story should go and what details should be included.
Here's the press release put out by the Jefferson County District Attorney's Office. You can see from this that the Rocky's story didn't go any further than the DA. One benefit of the information in this release is that it can teach others how sex offenders operate, and especially how they groom and manipulate their victims. That, to me, is valuable information, not just for parents, but also for school administrators, teachers and others.
For Immediate Release - Jun 24, 2008
Contact: Pam Russell
DA Public Information
Re: Band Teacher Guilty of Sexual Assault of a Child
A Jefferson County jury was out just over an hour today before finding a former high school band teacher, and the father of a small child, guilty of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old female student. William Robert Eisenman, 33, a Bailey resident, was found guilty of one count of sexual assault of a child by one in a position of trust in a pattern of conduct, a class three felony. He was also found guilty of providing alcohol to a minor, a class four felony. The jury acquitted him of unlawful sexual contact involving another female student who had turned 18.
Eisenman was teaching band and orchestra at Evergreen High School in the winter and spring of 2007 when a female student approached him for advice about boys and relationships. Eisenman had developed friendly relationships with many of the students and often acted as confident. They considered him their friend as well as their teacher. When asked for advice about relationships, Eisenman suggested that to the student that she dress and act more provocatively to attract boys. He also offered to let her model clothing for him and help her change her image. In March, 2007 he registered at a hotel room in the Denver area and drove the girl there so that she could model the clothing for him. Eisenman sexually assaulted the teen for the first time at the hotel. Over the next two months he continued to sexually assault the teen at the school, in his car, in hotels, and at his home. During a jazz festival in Greeley, Eisenman invited a friend of his to the holtel to have a "threesome."
Prosecutors showed the jurors how Eisenman had groomed the teen starting with being a good listener and friend. But as their relationship grew he told her that he had a heart condition that was incurable and that he would die within 2-3 years. Eisenman told the girl that he was glad he could talk to because he couldn't tell his wife about his heart because it would upset her. He also asked the teen to take care of his wife when he died.
Eisenman was remanded into the custody of the Sheriff's Office. His bond amount was raised from $35,000 to $100,000. He will be sentenced on August 19 at 1:00 and faces a mandatory prison sentence. This will be an indeterminant prison sentence unique to our sexual assault statutes. The judge will decide what the low end of sentence will be, in the range of from 8 to 24 years. The prison sentence then will be up to life. If Eisenman were to be paroled, he would be on lifetime parole supervision.