A former Alvin ISD police officer was found guilty of two felony counts related to having a sexual relationship with a teen student at Alvin Junior High.
After a week of testimony, a Brazoria County jury found Terry Roy Tennard guilty of two counts of sexual assault of a child above the age of 13 but below the age of 17. The jury found Tenard not guilty on two other counts, first-degree felony charges of aggravated sexual assault of a child under the age of 14.
Opening arguments in the began June 18, as the prosecution and the defense painted two different pictures.
Rick Martin, representing the state of Texas, gave the narrative of the teenage victim’s mother observing “familiar behavior” between Tennard and her daughter and subsequently discovering inappropriate text messages from Tennard, whose number the mother recognized because she knew him as the coach of her son’s private basketball team. Martin labeled the discovery of the activity as “mother’s intuition.”
Maverick Ray, representing Tennard, said the case was a classic instance of a person wrongfully accused of sexual assault against a man known at Manvel Junior High as a “person kids could come to” affectionately called “O.T.” for Officer Tennard. He described the adolescent accuser as a young girl with a history of sexual behavior, including the texting of nude photos with boys her age, before the alleged relationship with Tennard and an infatuation for one of the few people in her life who was helping her through a difficult home life involving her parents’ divorce, her mother and father focusing more on her older brother and her father’s anger issues.
“She fell in love with him; she was attracted to him,” Ray said, adding that the victim wrote letters about how she wished she could marry him. Later during the trial, the victim was unable to provide a response when Ray asked her to confirm or deny that she wrote a letter to the United States government in an effort to discover a way she and Tennard could be together, despite stating during other times of cross examination that the two never discussed a future of being together or getting married.
Ray said the victim admitted to having romantic feelings for Tennard that persisted into the earlier court dates of his criminal prosecution after the alleged crime was reported in December 2017, specifically referring to statements made by the victim during counseling that she felt happy to see Tennard at an April 11, 2018, court hearing despite feeling upset about the circumstances in which he found himself. Ray also highlighted statements by the victim at the time that everyone was making a bigger deal out of what happened than what it was.
Ray referred to Martin’s argument of “mother’s intuition” as “bogus” telling the jury that the victim’s parents were angered by their daughter confiding in Tennard and a teacher about their troubled home life and mentioning the $250,000 federal civil lawsuit against Tennard and the Alvin Independent School District as further motive for encouraging their daughter to make false accusations.
The sentences “I don’t know,” and “I can’t remember,” abounded in the alleged victim’s testimony during cross examination.
The alleged victim said that she began a casual relationship with Tennard at the age of 13 in sixth grade, but could not remember the first time she met Tennard and said a sexual relationship did not begin until the seventh grade.
The accuser described in detail the location and interior of Tennard’s office at Manvel Junior High and it was noted during the trial that the office is entirely enclosed when the door is shut, having no windows.
The victim said she could not remember the first time she kissed Tennard, nor could she remember whether the kiss was on the lips or the cheek. She said that the two started having sex two weeks after the first kiss, with Tennard caressing her back during the interim.
The victim described having both vaginal and oral sexual relations with Tennard once or twice a week. She said Tennard kept a comforter in his filing cabinet that he would lay out behind his desk for them to have sex on.
The defense raised questions as to the victim’s sexual knowledge and experience prior to her alleged relationship with Tennard. Judge Terri Holder of the 149th District Court denied the defense’s wish to inquire during cross examination the possibility as to whether the accuser may have had sexual relations with a prior boyfriend. The relevance of the accuser’s exposure to pornography at the young ages of 3 and 8 years was denied by Holder after she permitted the defense to ask questions regarding the incidents away from the jury. Holder also denied the defense’s request to question the accuser in front of the jury about an incident in which police responded to her family’s home when her father became loud in anger.
The state presented five documents as evidence. The first was a crude, handwritten hall pass on plain paper allegedly written by a teacher for the accuser to report to Tennard’s office, the second was an official “Student Notice” instructing the accuser to report to Tennard’s office “immediately” “for a message,” the third was an official hall pass form filled out for the accuser to visit Tennard’s office during her third period class, the fourth was a “Tutorial Pass” that the accuser said was not related to the alleged sexual assault and the fifth was a handwritten note that the accuser said was also not related to the alleged misconduct. The note was written by the accuser to her friend informing that she would not be riding the bus that day so as to attend an after school tutorial session.
Ray asked questions as to the details of the completely handwritten hall pass, which read “[Accuser’s Name] to RR (8th)….3/21/17….344.” The accuser explained that “8th” referred to her being in the eighth grade, but Ray explained that she was in seventh grade on March 21, 2017. The accuser then said “8th” was a reference to the class period at the time, though Ray noted that the accuser had earlier explained during testimony that there were only seven class periods at Manvel Junior High.
The state called witnesses on Wednesday, presenting as evidence to the jury the comforter and DNA evidence obtained from it. Employees of the Texas Department of Public Safety Houston Crime Laboratory reviewed reports that the comforter tested positive for semen in multiple locations and further analysis created figures such as one in sextillion and one in octillion chances that the semen belonged to any individual other than Tennard. DNA with similar odds of belonging to the accuser was also found, but the lab tested nine stains before finding one that likely contained DNA from both the accuser and Tennard together. Ray told The Alvin Sun & Advertiser outside the courtroom that this stain was located on a small corner of the comforter.
A search of Tennard’s office following his arrest discovered a tube of Mandelay Maximum Strength Climax Control Gel and a bottle of ZYTENZ Max Strength Male Enhancement Pump Spray.
Ray asked Brazoria County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Paige Newsom to feel the weight of the ZYTENZ bottle during her testimony and she admitted the bottle appeared to be full or near full.
Tennard’s accuser repeatedly confirmed during her testimony that he always wore a condom during their encounters.
Ray was adamant to repeat that no condoms or condom wrappers were ever found during the search of Tennard’s office or car, nor were any such items found in the trash that Tennard had thrown out the day before his arrest and that investigators were able to recover.
Ray said Tennard’s explanation for taking the trash out that day was because he had eaten gumbo that was causing a foul odor.
Cell phone records were presented to the jury after having been extracted from both Tennard’s and the victim’s phones using a software called Cellebrite.
Printouts presented to the jury showed a string of text messages on the victim’s phone from December 13, 2017, just two days before the alleged relationship was brought to law enforcement’s attention, and a year after its claimed beginning. The printout shows a conversation between the victim and a number given to be Tennard’s.
On June 18, the defense brought forth the technology of number spoofing that, through the use of a website or smartphone app, allows the sender to change the sending number to whatever they want.
Tennard took the stand Thursday, claiming that he had first met the victim when her friend brought her to his office to report receiving inappropriate text messages from a boy, and later coached her brother’s basketball team, through which he met their mother.
Tennard said the victim began visiting his office once every other week to talk about problems with her brother. Tennard said she was not the only student who would come to him for advice, but when she began to talk about her boyfriend, Tennard first told her she was too young to have one then suggested she talk to a female teacher.
Tennard said he suggested that the victim see a counselor to discuss the things she wished, but testified that the counselor she was assigned to did not have the patience for her.
Tennard said during the victim’s seventh grade year, a meeting took place between the victim’s mother, the female teacher that the victim also went to for advice, then Manvel Junior High Assistant Principal Ahmesha Graham and himself in which the victim’s mother said she was uncomfortable with Tennard having a relationship with her daughter in which they discussed her home life.
Tennard said an email was sent to those involved, including himself, that the victim was to be sent to Graham if she asked to see Tennard. He said she would still try to visit his office, but he always told her he would contact Graham if she did not leave.
“I pretty much kept her at a distance,” Tennard said.
Tennard said the comforter, which comprised part of a comforter set including pillows, that the prosecution presented as evidence was brought from his home, along with three others, to give to a custodian at the school whose family had been badly impacted by Hurricane Harvey. He said the custodian took three of the comforters, and Tennard later opted to keep the remaining comforter in his office so his younger daughter who was a student at E.C. Mason Elementary that had an earlier dismissal time than the junior high, could take naps on the floor of his office.
Tennard said the comforter was kept in his filing cabinet, next to a bowl in which he kept candy for students.
He said the filing cabinet was left unlocked and that any student was welcome to take candy when they wanted, and sometimes the comforter would get in the way of shutting the filing cabinet door so students would have to push it back in.
Tennard claimed the sexual lotion and spray found in his office had been obtained from a hiding spot in the boys’ restroom where other contraband had been found before.
During Tennard’s testimony, Ray asked him if he had ever been accused of anything similar to the crimes he was accused of in December 2017, to which Tennard answered no, prompting the prosecution to introduce information regarding a brief past relationship Tennard had with a 16-year-old girl in 2010, leading to the birth of his youngest child.
The jury was led out of the courtroom while Holder made a decision on whether the prosecution would be permitted to present the information, arguing that Tennard’s answer to Ray’s question would leave members of the jury with an erroneous assumption that he has never had a relationship with someone who was below the age of consent. The defense objected, calling the tactic an attack on Tennard’s character with a relationship for which a legal complaint was never received, nor any legal proceedings whatsoever resulting.
Torn, Holder told the prosecution that she would not forbid the introduction of the information, but it would be their responsibility to defend its inclusion if an issue arose during the appeals process.
The prosecution proceeded during a cross examination to ask Tennard about the relationship.
Tennard explained at the time he was working as a drill instructor at a boot camp in Fort Bend County, he knew a young woman who worked at the front desk. He assumed she was an employee rather than a student, and encountered her away from work at a nightclub that did not admit people under the age of 18. The two began a sexual relationship and Tennard said he did not know of her age until she became a cadet at the school. The woman initially did not acknowledge Tennard as the father. Child support proceedings have since taken place regarding the child and Tennard has paid all child support. The woman never wished to press charges against Tennard.
Brazoria County prosecutor Paige Santell said with Tennard having been in a position of authority at the time, the similarity between Tennard’s relationship with his youngest child’s mother and the accusations against him during his time at Manvel Junior High were striking.
The jury also heard testimony from Sheri Elder, a counselor at the Child Assessment Center in Houston, where the victim was taken April 10, 2018.
In a bizarre twist, Elder wrongfully identified a picture of Tennard’s youngest daughter as the victim who she had counseled for over a year.
When asked, Elder said that the victim “absolutely” indicated signs of sexual abuse and “demonstrated a range of emotional distress,” including “severe depression,” “severe anxiety,” “anger,” “irritability,” and was “very emotionally guarded.”
“She really didn’t want to be there,” Elder said of the victim’s first counseling session.
Elder also said the victim laughs a lot, using sarcasm as a coping mechanism for her trauma.
Ray highlighted the fact that the victim was brought in for counseling the same day her parents filed their federal civil lawsuit against Tennard and Alvin ISD, suggesting that bringing her for counseling may have been a way to improve their case.
Ray later told The Alvin Sun & Advertiser that in his experience with expert witnesses he has seen a litany of sometimes opposite symptoms referred to as signs of sexual abuse.
“I’ve had the same witness say that poor grades are an indication of sexual abuse, that good grades are an indication of sexual abuse and normal grades are an indication of sexual abuse. I’ve heard that not eating is or eating too much is. They’ll say whatever,” Ray said.
During proceedings on Thursday, the defense filed a motion for a mistrial due to the inclusion by the prosecution of evidence that constituted information and videos related to an employment termination hearing after Tennard’s arrest.
Ray explained that the inclusion of the exhibit was a violation of garrity, a legal right bestowed upon police officers that internal hearings cannot be used in criminal prosecutions. The request was denied.
During Friday’s closing arguments, Assistant District Attorney Paige Santell said in most trials involving sexual offenses, she has to ask the jury simply to believe the victim.
“It’s not the case here,” Santell said. “Y’all got evidence, and it’s overwhelming.”
Ray presented to the jury a sexual assault nurse’s report on the examination of the victim’s genitalia following the initial complaint, and noted that the report says that the victim’s hymen was uninjured.
Ray said it was ridiculous for the prosecution to suggest that a 14-year-old girl had been having repeated sexual relations with a 42-year-old man “…and you mean to tell me that the cherry hasn’t popped?”
The prosecution objected to Ray’s comment because a medical expert never testified during the trial to explain proper interpretation of the results. Holder instructed the jury to disregard Ray’s statement about the victim’s hymen.
Ray and his defense team member Matthew Marzak told The Alvin Sun & Advertiser outside the courtroom that the defense counsel did not receive the medical report until the Thursday before opening arguments began.
Other documents relating to the victim’s counseling sessions with Elder — which legally had to be made available to the defense as Elder was a witness for the prosecution — were not received by the defense until the Monday that jury selection was conducted for the trial.
The defense team also contested on the record the number of times that stains from the comforter were being tested. Four stains were originally tested, with another five tested in a second phase after insufficient evidence was found on the first four stains.
Ray told the jury during closing arguments that the comforter was “sent back to the lab nine times before they found what they wanted.”
Ray told the jury that the absence of any condoms being discovered during the investigation, and the fact that all DNA from the victim found on the blanket during examination was skin cells and none was able to be determined as sexual in nature, meant that the jury should acquit Tennard on reasonable doubt.
During deliberations, the jury sent a note out to Holder that they were unable to agree on the meaning of epithelial (skin) DNA and whether such could include vaginal secretions.
Holder sent an extract of the court reporter’s transcript of forensic scientist Jessica Lake’s testimony regarding the examination of the comforter, but denied including a part of the transcript in which Ray asked Lake if it was correct that the DNA from the victim contained in the one stain that contained DNA from both her and Tennard could not be determined to be sexual in nature and Lake responded that that was correct.
Lake had testified that vaginal secretions could occasionally test positive for semen, but that usually the only way to differentiate vaginal secretions from other epithelial DNA was that vaginal secretions would leave a “crusty layer.”
She said she did not “visually notice” many vaginal secretion stains on the comforter, however. Lake had also testified that transference of epithelial DNA was very easy, requiring just a touch of an object.
After deliberating for approximately four hours, the jury returned a verdict of not guilty on the two first-degree felony charges of aggravated sexual assault of a child under the age of 14, but found Tennard guilty of two counts of sexual assault of a child above the age of 13 but below the age of 17.
Tennard’s sister, Tiffany Tennard, who was present for the entire trial, was surprised at the verdict.
“I’ve never seen anything like this, with no evidence,” Tiffany said.
The charges Tennard has been found guilty of each carry a possible penalty of two to 20 years in prison.
The jury was scheduled to return to determine sentencing on Monday.
See the weekend edition of The Alvin Sun for sentencing details.