Sunday, Nov. 4, 2007

Thomas trial expected to begin in late November

Former school board member has pleaded not guilty to sex offense involving a minor

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The trial of former Prince George’s County school board member Nathaniel B. Thomas has been rescheduled to begin Nov. 26, more than a month after its original date.

Thomas, 26, is facing a third-degree sex offense against a former county student. He resigned in June soon after being charged. The trial was initially scheduled for Oct. 12, but was changed to Nov. 26 after Thomas’ Greenbelt-based attorney, Bruce Marcus, filed a continuance, which was granted by the court.

Ramon Korionoff, spokesman for Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Glenn F. Ivey, said prosecutors were prepared for the case before its original October start date.

‘‘We were ready to go the first time around,” Korionoff said.

A jury pool of about 50 is expected to assemble in three weeks at Prince George’s County Circuit Court in Upper Marlboro as Thomas and Marcus prepare to launch a defense against the charge, which is applied when no coercion or force is involved. Thomas pleaded not guilty to the charge. If convicted, Thomas would be placed on the state’s sex offender registry and could serve up to 10 years in prison.

The trial is expected to last two to three days, sources close to the trial said.

Thomas, who was elected to an at-large school board seat in November 2006, was accused of having sex with a 15-year-old Forestville Military Academy student at least three times at his District Heights home between August 2004 and October 2005.

In April, Thomas was found to have brought an 18-year-old county student to an education convention in San Francisco with the rest of the school board. The student’s parents did not give permission for the student to leave with Thomas, according to a 36-page report that resulted from an independent investigation launched by the school board last spring.

Ivey said the board’s report, which also cited details of ‘‘sexually suggestive games” and alcohol consumption with underage county students, was a valuable tool in indicting Thomas. He called the report a ‘‘road map” for the grand jury investigation since it provided contacts and a rough timeline of the former teacher’s interaction with students, including information regarding the 15-year-old.

The sex charge is not related to Thomas’ relationship with the student who went to San Francisco, but rather with the Forestville student, who graduated in June.

The board report said Thomas met the student, who was 15 at the time, while he was a teacher at Forestville Military Academy during the 2003-04 school year. The student volunteered for Thomas’ school board campaign during the summer of 2006, and Thomas frequently had dinner and went to the movies with the student and members of the student’s family, according to the report.

Thomas made 42 phone calls to the student between January and April 2007 and gave the student $150 toward a college housing deposit, according to the report.

County school board chairman Owen Johnson said he would follow Thomas’ trial, but would only be interested as a one-time colleague.

‘‘That’s out of our purview. There’s no need for me to follow it closely,” he said. ‘‘We’ve moved on. I have interest in him because I know him as a person, but we have a new board member in place ... and we have a lot of other business to focus on.”

More than 40 county residents applied to fill Thomas’ at-large seat. County Executive Jack B. Johnson selected Hyattsville education activist Amber Waller to fill the vacancy in September. Waller’s first school board meeting was Oct. 18.

E-mail Dennis Carter at dcarter@gazette.net.