18 Students in Kanawha County Allege Molestation by Piano Teacher

From today’s Charleston Daily Mail:

Note: Usually in a criminal trial, evidence of past bad behavior, or alleged past unlawful behavior, is inadmissible to prove that the person acted in conformity with the past behavior in the case at trial. However, in instances where the past conduct is extremely similar to the current charges, it can be used as evidence to prove modus operandi – or as it is usually referred to, his “M.O..” In sexual molestation cases, many of the old allegations will have long passed the statute of limitations, but they can still be used to convict on current charges. – John H. Bryan, West Virginia criminal defense attorney.

17 more former students claim molestation by music teacher

by Zack Pettit
Daily Mail staff

Seventeen more people have come forth and accused St. Albans music teacher Jack Pierce of sexual abuse, police said. All 17 accusations were made by males who had taken lessons from Pierce, St. Albans Police Detective Mark Burdette said. Some of the incidents date back to 1968, he said.

Pierce, 61, has taught private piano and voice lessons for more than four decades. He was arrested Tuesday and charged with first-degree sexual abuse in connection with allegations made by former student Joshua Willard.

Burdette, the lead investigator in the case, said the newest complainants have accused Pierce of nearly identical behavior that Willard reported.

Willard, 18, filed a complaint Jan. 3, alleging Pierce had sexually abused him in 2004 when he was 14 years old.

Since Tuesday, Burdette said police have heard from former students across the country, coming from as far away as Oklahoma.

“The claims are pretty much identical,” Burdette said. “They said (Pierce) made them sleep in bed with him. They’re saying he rubbed their backs, stomachs and genitals. We know some of them are legitimate.”

Willard told detectives he and his brother were dropped off at Pierce’s St. Albans home to spend the night and watch movies, according to the complaint filed in Kanawha Magistrate Court.

Later that night, Willard was coerced into sleeping in Pierce’s bed while his brother slept downstairs on a couch, the complaint said.

While in bed, Pierce began fingering the teenager’s belly button and fondling him through his pants, according to the complaint.

The night’s events made Willard feel uncomfortable, and the next morning he told his mother what had happened, the complaint said.

His mother did not contact police, but she removed her children from Pierce’s classes.

Willard reported the claim to police last month, and Pierce was arrested and taken to South Central Regional Jail. He has since posted bond.

Burdette now is asking any other alleged victims report to police headquarters or mail their written statements to police.

He said it is common for a flood of complaints to come in after an arrest has been made, especially when a case involves juveniles.

“Juveniles don’t want to say anything because they are afraid of what their friends will think of them,” he said. “They don’t want that hassle or publicity. They want to keep it hush-hush.”

He said other victims often feel more comfortable coming forward and more willing to take a stand if someone else’s allegations become public.

Burdette said police are working to substantiate the claims by looking at Pierce’s detailed records dating back to 1989.

“He kept meticulous accounts,” Burdette said. “We will find every single one of these complaints. Everything is documented. He wrote when kids spent the night, went to dinner.”

One of Pierce’s former students, Derek Chase, 23, of Racine, has not contacted police and said he doesn’t plan to.

But he said he was involved in a “similar situation” to what Willard has reported.

Chase previously lived in Winfield and took voice lessons from Pierce for about four years, beginning when he was a sophomore in high school.

He said his former teacher often took him out to dinner, to movies, even to Broadway shows in New York and a luncheon at The Greenbrier.

Chase said he at first didn’t think anything was out of the ordinary, but his feelings about his teacher changed after an incident he would only describe as being “similar” to what Willard reported.

Chase said he didn’t want to go into detail.

“I know what he’s done to me,” Chase said. “I know I’ll be held accountable for what I say, but I know from my experience he’s guilty.”

Chase, who now works for Massey Energy, is married and expecting his first child.

He said he didn’t go to police for several reasons.

“In my case, I didn’t really think I had anything to stand on because I was 18 (at the time),” he said. “In a way, it’s embarrassing to even talk about. It’s a messed up situation.”

Chase said he stopped taking lessons from Pierce not long after the alleged incident.

But some other people who know Pierce describe the man as “courteous,” and say they can’t believe the accusations against him.

Beverly McCormick of St. Albans said she has been a friend and a neighbor of Pierce’s for about 48 years.

“I can’t believe any of it’s true,” she said. “It’s a big shock, big surprise. He’s somebody I go to Wal-Mart with and go to the movies with.”

Burdette said he thinks the allegations have been difficult for many people in St. Albans to deal with.

“It’s kind of hard for them to believe because he’s considered a kind of pillar of the community,” he said. “It’s something they can’t comprehend or conceive him doing. He’s buffaloed people.”

Burdette said he isn’t sure how long the investigation will continue, or how many students might be involved.

Police have said there are 200 students enrolled in Pierce’s music lessons right now. Burdette estimated Tuesday that Pierce has taught anywhere from 2,000 to 3,000 students over the course of his career.

Pierce has a preliminary hearing scheduled for Feb. 21.