Jones faces second molestation trial
By Ken Kobayashi
Advertiser Courts Writer
By Ken Kobayashi
A former 'Aiea dance instructor charged with the sensational crimes of sexually assaulting five of his young students was acquitted of molesting three of them and of some of the other charges involving the two others.
Daniel Jones was acquitted by the jury on 12 of 18 sex assault charges after nearly nine days of deliberations. The panel ended up deadlocked on the other six counts.
The verdict was a huge blow to city prosecutors, who vowed to retry Jones on six charges that include two first-degree sexual assaults, each carrying a maximum 20-year prison term.
But one juror who asked that her name not be used said the panel was leaning toward acquitting Jones on those deadlocked counts, including 11-1 for acquittal on two of the charges and 10-2 on another.
"I think part of it is we didn't feel the prosecution provided a strong enough case," she said.
Jones, 21, blinked hard when the first of the 12 not-guilty verdicts was announced by the clerk in Circuit Judge Virginia Crandall's courtroom. As it became apparent that he might be acquitted on those dozen counts, his relatives, supporters and friends began sobbing in relief from the gallery.
Jones wiped his nose with tissue after all the verdicts were read.
As he hugged his father, Ed Higa, Jones' face turned red and tears streamed from his eyes, which were squeezed shut. His mother, Lorena Jones, also embraced her son.
Jones and his relatives declined to comment as they left the courthouse.
His lawyer, Myron Takemoto, said Jones was relieved, but the attorney stopped short of saying the verdict exonerated his client.
"I think the jury has made its verdict on 12 of 18 charges that Mr. Jones is not guilty, and we believe justice was done," he said. "But there are still six remaining counts and we will pursue those vigorously."
City Deputy Prosecutor Thalia Murphy said she could not comment because of the pending retrial.
Crandall scheduled the retrial for the week of Aug. 28.
Jones was arrested April 8 last year and was charged with molesting the girls when they were ages 12 to 15 while working as a dance instructor at the Rosalie Woodson Dance Academy in 'Aiea.
The most recent allegation was that he had sexually assaulted one girl about three weeks earlier. The other allegations occurred as far back as July 2004.
SUPPORT FOR JONES
Rosalie Woodson, the studio's founder, stood by Jones when the allegations first surfaced. Jones' mother and two sisters work at the academy.
"I'm still supportive of Dan," Woodson said yesterday after the verdict was announced. "I know deep down in my heart that he's a very honest person. I can't believe this is happening."
The parents of the five girls could not be reached for comment.
But one other parent was pleased with the verdict. Stacey Mamiya, mother of two daughters who have been attending the studio for seven years, knows the Jones family.
"I'm just glad that the truth prevailed," she said. "I never had any doubt, but you never know how a jury is going to react. The Jones family has always taken care of my girls."
The three-week trial featured each of the five girls taking the witness stand and testifying that each was molested individually on separate occasions. Jones declined to testify, and the jury was instructed not to hold against him his decision not to take the stand.
The girls testified Jones molested them at various locations, including the studio, at times trying to hypnotize them before giving them massages and placing his hands on their breasts, buttocks and private parts.
The most serious allegations of four counts of first-degree sex assault involved a girl who testified she was 12 when Jones fondled her in a tent during a camping trip. Jones was accused of first-degree sexual assault involving the girl three other times.
The jury, however, acquitted Jones of two of the first-degree sex assault charges, including the one in the tent.
During the trial, Murphy maintained that Jones betrayed the trust and friendship the girls and some of their parents placed in Jones, the longtime instructor who had known the students for years.
But Takemoto told the jurors that the prosecution did not have any physical or medical evidence to corroborate the sex assaults or any other witnesses aside from the girls.
The defense lawyer said their testimony contained too many inconsistencies to be believed. He also characterized Jones as a victim of hysteria with the girls talking among themselves before reporting the allegations.
Takemoto also argued that the then-12-year-old girl had a crush on Jones, but he rejected her, suggesting that revenge was a motive for her complaints.
The prosecution tried to bolster its case by playing for the jury a tape that was recorded secretly by the father of one of the girls the month before Jones' arrest. The father said his daughter indicated when Jones tried to hypnotize her, "there's some touching and stuff going on."
Jones replied, "Oh, yeah."
The defense, however, said Jones was not admitting to the allegation.
Jones was reacting to threats by the father and Jones had no choice but to act remorseful or face the father taking the matter "to another level," including seeking to hold Jones liable in civil court for the allegation, according to Takemoto.
The jury was deadlocked on six counts involving those two girls.
The panel began deliberating on May 17. At one point last week, Crandall held a chambers hearing with Jones and the lawyers that was closed to the media and public to question jurors individually. Yesterday, the judge said she held the private session to protect Jones' right to a fair trial and the "integrity of the jury deliberations."
Takemoto and co-counsel Ken Shimozono yesterday said the session dealt with concerns that one of the jurors might have been talking to someone outside the case, but the panelist apparently did not do so and the matter was resolved without any finding of misconduct by the juror.
'VERY, VERY EMOTIONAL'
The juror interviewed by The Advertiser yesterday called the deliberations difficult and "very, very emotional."
Asked whether the girls concocted the allegations as the defense suggested, the juror said, "I would say there were too many 'I don't remembers' for me."
Jones, who has been barred from the studio as part of the conditions for his release on bond, was working at a restaurant until a couple of weeks before the trial, according to Takemoto.
The case has been "devastating" for him and his family, Takemoto said.
Takemoto said his client will probably have to live with the allegations for the rest of his life, even if he is acquitted of the six remaining counts.
"There are still going to be people who believe he's guilty, despite what the verdict was in this case," Takemoto said.
"He's not out celebrating, obviously."Advertiser staff writer Rod Ohira contributed to this report.
Reach Ken Kobayashi at firstname.lastname@example.org.