After 8 years, ex-Palmetto High teacher faces jurors, and accuser, in underage sex trial

  • In US
  • 2023-01-26 12:13:44Z
  • By Miami Herald

Seven years after an underage sex scandal led to his arrest, a once popular Miami Palmetto Senior High creative writing teacher is finally in Miami-Dade criminal court this week to face charges of statutory rape - and his accuser.

State prosecutors used opening arguments Wednesday to portray Jason Meyers as a predator who used sexual themes in his creative writing class - particularly through poetry - to entice a naive, then 17-year-old student into having sex with him at least three times.

"He mentored her. He saw promise in her that made her feel good," Assistant Miami-Dade State Attorney Jessie Friedman told jurors. "(She) will tell you she had feelings for the defendant. It started with a kiss."

His attorneys argued otherwise and will try to persuade jurors that a student on the verge of adulthood, knew well the difference between right and wrong. Defense attorney Brad Horenstein told jurors that the young woman knew Meyers then-pregnant wife taught at Palmetto - as a teen she had taken one of her classes - and that the couple had three other children.

"It was a money grab. This case is about money," he said.

Sixteen months ago, a federal jury ordered the the Miami-Dade School District to pay $6 million to the former 17-year-old Palmetto student, saying it failed to prevent Meyers from having sex with her despite several warnings of earlier allegations of sexual encounters with students. That lawsuit also claimed that several years earlier while teaching at another school, Meyers pursued sexual relationships with eight students who were publicly referred to as "Jason's Girls."

The reference to other cases has been banned from Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Cristina Miranda's courtroom during the criminal trial on three counts of using his position of authority to have sex with a minor student. Under Florida law, it is considered statutory rape if anyone 24 or older in Florida has sex with anyone under 18.

Also in dispute: That eight years ago inside the locked doors and taped windows of Palmetto High classroom 301, Meyers and his student had three sexual encounters behind his desk.

The student, now a 24-year-old who lives in Seattle and works in communication for a retail chain, was the lone witness to take the stand Wednesday. She was polished and articulate, often pausing before answering questions and rarely combative.

Meyers, 47, sat quietly Wednesday between his two attorneys, rarely whispering, but appearing to take copious notes. Now a father of five children, he was an Army sergeant whose parents were both teachers. His attorneys said it has not yet been decided if he will testify in his own defense.

According to the federal civil suit, Meyers first popped up on school system radar in 2008 when the principal at Michael M. Krop Senior High received an email that alleged Meyers was having sex with current and former students from the school. Jurors in the federal case were also told of an email from the boyfriend of a student who said she had sex with Meyers while she was underage and heard from another student who claimed she was "sexually exploited" by Meyers during a school-sponsored trip to Washington, D.C.

Both students said they were never interviewed by school employees or police. Meyers was transferred to Palmetto in 2011.

On Wednesday in state criminal court, the former student said she first met Meyers in the spring of her junior year, after his wife told her she saw potential in her poetry and urged her to attend quarterly Poetry Nights at the school put on by Meyers. It's an event that encourages students to read poems or sing songs and which attracts hundreds of students each quarter. When she returned to school in the fall with a full load that included six Advanced Placement college courses, she said Meyers worked out a way to switch one of them so she could attend his creative writing class.

She testified that they began to meet privately in his classroom several times a day, before school, during the lunch hour and at times after school. She said she enjoyed the meetings and had a "crush" on Meyers. She said he pushed her to improve, calling her work "immature," and turning her on to a group of writers - E.E. Cummings and Charles Bukowski among them - who didn't shy from writing sexually explicit material.

Eventually, she said, Meyers told her he thought about her while writing a poem about faces and female genitalia. All of this was in the fall of 2015 and she said they eventually had sex three times in his office. Then they stopped.

Meyer's defense attorney Tara Kawass grilled the young woman on her busy schedule and outside school activities like working at Chipotle, philanthropy work, singing "Beautiful" by Christina Aguilera during a Poetry Night and taking 11 AP courses her junior and senior years. The point seemed to be that though she was 17 at the time, she also showed an unusual maturity. Then she questioned the student for not going to authorities as Meyers became more aggressive.

"He asked how many people have you had sex with. That doesn't raise a red flag?" Kawass asked.

"I trusted him. I had a crush on him. I didn't think to report it," the former student replied.

She said one of the few people she mentioned Meyers to was her best friend. When the two were in company they decided to refer to him as "Ezra," a teaching character in her favorite show Pretty Little Things, who has an affair with a student.

Then, near the end of the fall semester her senior year, she said police pulled her out of fifth period class. She said she was nervous and at first denied having sex with Meyers. She said she finally gave in and admitted to it when the detective told her there could be others who had sex with Meyers.

"I would have continued to deny it, if that hadn't been said," she said.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *

Cancel reply


Top News: US