Popular Fairfax teacher on trial for sexual assault of 6th grader
Testimony began Tuesday in the trial of popular Fairfax County school teacher and soccer coach Sean Lanigan, who is charged with the aggravated sexual assault and abduction of a 12-year-old girl in his Centre Ridge Elementary School gym in January.
Lanigan, 43, is married with three children and taught at Centre Ridge for 12 years, until he was arrested on Jan. 29. He has been suspended without pay from the school system. He also coached various travel soccer teams and the boys soccer team at Herndon High School.
The 12-year-old accuser took the stand Tuesday morning and testified for nearly two hours, much of which was under cross-examination from renowned defense attorney Peter D. Greenspun.
The girl testified that on Jan. 12, with three other sixth-graders in the gym, Lanigan picked her up by the hips, and that his hand was briefly on her breast. She said he then carried her into an equipment room and laid her down on a mat, where his hand briefly slid on to her buttocks.
In the equipment room, the girl said, Lanigan massaged her shoulders and said he was "going to treat you like a queen." She said when she tried to get up, Lanigan pushed her back down. She said Lanigan asked her where she had to go, and she said she had safety patrol duties. He then let her leave.
The original allegation, contained in a Fairfax police press release, that Lanigan laid on top of the girl was not mentioned. The girl denied that allegation in a March preliminary hearing.
On cross-examination, the girl told Greenspun that she held something of a grudge against Lanigan, and had told other kids that "she hated Mr. Lanigan." The girl acknowledged that she had bullied and cursed other children on her bus while in her role as a safety patrol, that parents had complained about her, and that Lanigan had spoken to her twice about her conduct.
The girl acknowledged that Lanigan told her she faced possibly being removed from her duties as a captain in the safety patrol, and that another teacher told her she could be removed from an in-school video news team. She also could have lost her special role as a "PE Pal" who cleans up the gym and gets to play in the gym without supervision.
The girl acknowledged another grudge against Lanigan: He wouldn't play her music, specifically from the group Chop Suey, during gym class. Lanigan had downloaded and played the music in class, but didn't like it, and other kids voted against it too, the girl said.
The girl said she did not report the touching incident until after she mentioned it to two of her friends, who threatened to report it themselves. She has since told the story to a social worker, a police detective, a prosecutor, at a preliminary hearing, and now again in a Circuit Court trial. She acknowledged also telling the story to schoolmates, and that she had downplayed the event to them.
Greenspun noted in his opening statement that for the jury to convict Lanigan, they had to find that he had sexual intent as well as inappropriate touching. Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Katie Pavluchuk said that in addition to the touching, Lanigan "carried her into that room against her will and he kept her there."
An entire day was spent on jury selection Monday. About 40 supporters of Lanigan were present, and a Facebook page supporting Lanigan has nearly 750 members.
-- Tom Jackman
May 25, 2010; 2:05 PM ET
Categories: Fairfax , From the Courthouse , Schools , Sex Crimes , Tom Jackman , Updates
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