November 26, 2008

Former School Principal James Kirkman Placed On Probation

November 26, 2008

WXII 12 News

HOLLIDAYSBURG, Pa. -- A former elementary school principal in Mount Airy recently was put on probation after entering a no-contest plea in a molestation case.

James "Jay" Kirkman, 63, was scheduled to go on trial for a second time in a Blair County courtroom on charges of indecent assault, corruption of minors and endangering the welfare of children.

Kirkman, who was tried on similar charges in Surry County during the 1980s, was accused of fondling a boy, now 16, at a church in southwestern Pennsylvania in 2005.

However, Kirkman, who was the principal of B.H. Tharrington Elementary School in Mount Airy from 1975-80, opted to enter the no-contest plea before the second trial began. His first trial in June ended with a hung jury.

Though Kirkman had maintained his innocence heading into the second court proceeding, he opted to enter the plea, thereby avoiding a jail sentence that could have resulted from his being tried and convicted. Instead, the former Surry County resident was placed on probation for 12 years by Judge Hiram Carpenter.

Kirkman also was ordered to undergo a sexual offender evaluation. He is not allowed to have unsupervised contact with children who are related to him and no contact with other youths.

Three years after resigning from Tharrington Elementary in 1980, Kirkman was charged with four counts of taking indecent liberties with a child by the Surry County Sheriff’s Office. The former resident of Pinecreek Trail in Mount Airy was accused of molesting two brothers from a troubled family, the oldest of whom was 14, while they were living in Kirkman’s home in 1983.

At the time, he was operating a counseling service on West Lebanon Street.

Kirkman pleaded guilty in the Surry County case and served 13 months in prison before being paroled in 1985.

He eventually moved to New Enterprise, Pa., and took an administrative position as church counselor at Faith Assembly of God Church near Roaring Spring.

The most recent criminal case against Kirkman stemmed from alleged acts at the church between October and December 2005 while he was counseling another teen. At the first trial, the alleged victim told the court that "astor Jay" put his arms around him and fondled him while he was playing the church keyboard.

Also, the youth accused Kirkman of taking him into a prayer room, where he allegedly molested him and told him not to tell.

The prosecution said that one reason it agreed to Kirkman’s no-contest plea was that it prevented the youth from having to testify again. The boy’s mother said that his grades had fallen and he is now being home-schooled. He also fears further counseling because of what happened with Kirkman, she said.

Another reason for accepting the plea was that Kirkman, had he been found guilty by a jury, likely would have received the same probationary sentence, prosecutors said. They also said that the sentence given Kirkman essentially will prevent him from further counseling of youth.

A no-contest plea basically means that the defendant does not admit guilt to charges, but is not willing to fight them through legal proceedings.

An attorney for Kirkman said it was important for his client to stay out of jail because he wants to assist with handling health problems within his wife’s family.

The prosecution had attempted to introduce testimony at the second trial from Kirkman’s victims in the Surry County abuse case, now 37 and 38, who still live in North Carolina. However, the judge ruled against that pre-trial request, saying there were differences in the two cases.

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