Former Columbus City Schools substitute teacher Sheila Kearns was convicted of four felony counts of disseminating matter harmful to juveniles by the Franklin County Common Pleas jury. The jury acquitted her of one other count. Kearns was convicted for showing five Spanish classes a gruesome movie that included graphic sex, gore and death.
Kearns, 58, claimed that she had never seen “The ABCs of Death” before showing it during class. She also testified that she did not watch the film during the five class periods. However, a student testified that Kearns was watching the film during school and added that the students “were going crazy” during the movie.
Kearns’ defense was based on her ignorance of the graphic nature of the movie. To be convicted of disseminating matter harmful to juveniles the accused must have “knowledge of its character or content.” The twelve person jury spent about two hours deliberating after hearing the closing arguments. Part of the trial included the jurors watching the two hour movie.
After the jurors handed down their decision, the foreman explained that while there was no evidence that Kearns had seen the movie, she should have realized the content of the movie during the four subsequent classes. This led to her being found not guilty of the first charge, but guilty of the other four. Her sentencing is on March 4 and could result in a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a $2,500 fine for each of the four felonies.
The movie consists of 26 segments that depict a certain way to die for each letter of the alphabet. For example, “L is for Libido” focused on a masturbation contest where the loser was killed.
Jurors were forced to watch the movie in order to determine whether it was harmful to juveniles and if it was considered obscene by Ohio law. Assistant County Prosecutor Kacey Chappelear said, “Willful ignorance is not a defense.”
Kearns was hired as a long-term Spanish substitute teacher even though she did not speak Spanish. She wrote in her testimony that she chose the movie because parts of it were in Spanish. Her lawyer pleaded, “There's no way you would show that movie with knowledge of its content. I can't even make up a reason. It’s clear that she didn't know.”
Sources: Columbus Dispatch / Photo Source: Columbus Dispatch