Three men testified Wednesday that former elementary school teacher John Thomas Patterson sexually assaulted them in his fourth-grade classroom in the mid-1970s.
“Embarrassed, ashamed,” one of the men testified as to why he never went to authorities until he read in the newspaper last year about Patterson’s arrest. “I didn’t want anybody to know about it. It’s hard to talk about something like that.”
Patterson, 66, of Mooresville was arrested in February 2013 and initially charged with inappropriately touching four male students at the former Mount Mourne Elementary School in southern Iredell County during the mid- to late 1980s. At the time, he was charged with 14 counts of taking indecent liberties.
More witnesses and victims soon came forward, and the investigation grew to at least 20 former students and more than 110 charges.
The men who testified Wednesday in Iredell County Superior Court said they were assaulted as 9-year-olds in Patterson’s classroom. The men are now 47 and 48 years old.
Patterson repeatedly rubbed his hand against their private parts for 10 to 15 minutes at a time throughout the 1975-76 school year, the men testified.
One man said he was assaulted after school when students waited in the library for their bus and Patterson called him and one or two other boys back to his classroom.
He said he felt ashamed and “guilty for letting it happen” and wishes he’d warned younger students before they reached fourth grade. “I wasn’t strong enough to protect those who came behind me,” the man testified as tears welled in his eyes and his voice choked.
Another man testified that he was assaulted at his desk as Patterson and the class read a book aloud. “He would come sit down and reach his arm around and start messing with me,” the man testified.
The third man to testify said Patterson would be reading “Jack Tales” or stories about Br’er Rabbit aloud with the class when he rubbed his hand against the student’s private parts.
The men said Patterson was well liked, trusted and respected by students and parents. Before the assaults, one testified, “He was one of my favorite teachers. He was a friend not only to me but to my parents, the community. To this day, I will say he was a very good teacher.”
One of the men said Patterson took him to Mooresville High School football games that year, and never assaulted him outside the classroom.
Dressed in a suit and tie, Patterson sat beside his lawyer taking notes on a legal pad as the men testified. He occasionally looked up at the men but showed no expression.
In her opening statement to jurors, prosecutor Crystal Beale said Patterson had a special knack for getting parents to trust him. “But on the inside, we’ll hear he was a very different person,” she said.
Ten more men who were in Patterson’s class as boys are waiting to testify against him. The trial is expected to take three weeks, Beale said. Each man is testifying outside the presence of the others.
Patterson also plans to testify, said his attorney, Will Willis of Mooresville. In his opening statement to jurors, Willis said Patterson was investigated in the 1980s after a student upset about a failing grade claimed Patterson assaulted him. Mooresville police never filed any charges, Willis said, and the school’s principal at the time assured authorities nothing happened.