Nearly a dozen men watched in an Iredell County courtroom Friday as a sheriff’s deputy handcuffed their fourth-grade teacher and escorted him off to prison for the rest of his life.
“Just relieved, happy,” one of John Thomas Patterson’s victims told the Observer in the courtroom later. “I was a ball of nerves before they reached their verdicts. I’m glad they saw him for who he really is.”
After six hours of deliberations over two days, an Iredell County Superior Court jury found Patterson, 66, of Mooresville guilty on dozens of counts of molesting students in the 1970s and 1980s at the former Mount Mourne Elementary School.
All but one of the charges was for indecent liberties. The other charge was for first-degree sexual offense.
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Judge Richard Boner sentenced Patterson to life in prison on the first-degree sexual offense count and an additional three years in prison on each of dozens of counts of taking indecent liberties against children.
Eleven men testified about how Patterson molested them after calling them up to his desk during class and when he walked up to their desks. One man said Patterson molested him as Patterson recited Bible verses aloud to the class.
The men, who were 9 years old when they were molested, looked straight ahead or bowed their heads as the jury announced its verdicts. Patterson sat expressionless; he dabbed his nose with a handkerchief at one point.
After the jury announced its unanimous verdicts, several of the victims, now in their late 30s and late 40s, told Boner how the teacher ruined their childhoods and affected them into adulthood.
“I lost my innocence that day,” one of Patterson’s victims, now 38, told Boner before the judge sentenced Patterson. “He took my innocence, my youth.”
“My prayer for you today is that your healing, if not already begun, will begin today and that you will now have peace,” Boner told Patterson’s victims before a sheriff’s deputy handcuffed Patterson and escorted him away.
On the witness stand this week, Patterson maintained his innocence. “I didn’t molest any boys,” Patterson testified.
In his closing statement Thursday, Patterson’s lawyer, Will Willis, said, “Thomas looked you in the eye and told you he didn’t do it. There’s doubt at every turn in this case.”
Prosecutor Crystal Beale on Thursday went over the testimony of the men who said Patterson sexually assaulted them as boys.
“Don’t let this man creep back into the darkness,” Beale told the jury in her closing statement. “He is guilty of every count. Find him guilty.”
Patterson worked for the old Iredell County school system, which later merged with the Statesville Schools, from 1971 to 1987, according to school personnel records. He taught at Mount Mourne Elementary from 1978 to 1987, when he resigned after a parent complained her son had been sexually molested, according to testimony during the trial.
The Mooresville police investigated the complaint but never filed charges, Willis told the jury.
On Friday, Willis asked for leniency, telling the judge that Patterson was never accused of any other wrongdoing after he retired.
Patterson’s victims felt otherwise.
“I’m just glad he will have to spend the rest of his life in prison,” the 38-year-old victim told the Observer.