AMERICAN FORK -- Six felony charges were dismissed Tuesday against a former seminary principal accused of a sexual relationship with a student, but the man will proceed to trial on the remaining 15 felonies.
Michael Pratt, 37, is charged with 10 first-degree felony counts of forcible sodomy, seven counts of object rape and two counts of rape, and two second-degree felony counts of forcible sex abuse. Prosecutors say he engaged in a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old Lone Peak High School student for several months while he served as her seminary principal and mentor.
"It was in that relationship where he groomed her into this position where she was willing to participate in the sexual activities that they were involved in," said prosecutor Julia Thomas.
LDS Church spokeswoman Kim Farah said Pratt was terminated after the allegations surfaced.
Defense attorney Dusty Kawai vehemently argued in Pratt's preliminary hearing that dates corresponding with some of the charges did not match with the girl's testimony in court. On some specific dates mentioned in the criminal information filed, the girl said nothing happened at all, he said.
"If she doesn't say it on the stand, then it can't be charged and it needs to be thrown out," Kawai said.
Pratt's accuser took the stand in American Fork's 4th District Court, detailing her sexual encounters with her seminary principal. After the girl's three-hour testimony of numerous trysts, Judge Christine Johnson found there was no testimony given to support six of the charges and dismissed them.
Thomas said the charges were dismissed on a technicality, but she is happy the judge bound over the charges that she did. Those charges are the easiest to prove and the state has a strong case, she said.
Kawai, however, said the outcome was a no-win situation. The allegations in the case are horrible, but so are the remedies. He said what happened between Pratt and the girl does not warrant a five years to life sentence.
"I don't feel like this was a victory for us, I don't feel like it's a victory for the prosecution," he said.
The girl testified that until April 30, she thought of Pratt as a friend, someone she could trust. That day, her feelings towards him changed after he sang a song for her in his office. The girl recorded the episode, and the video was played and lyrics displayed in court.
"You are sunlight and I am moon," Pratt sang. "Joined by the gods of fortune."
The girl said she did not understand what the song meant at first. However, she said he later explained it was about her and she was the only one who saw him for what he really was.
"We both know that I just won't ever deserve the girl I'm with," he sang. "Sometimes it makes me sick of who I can be."
Pratt called her later that day and told her about a fantasy he had about her, the girl testified. The fantasy involved getting her out of school, going to Bridal Veil Falls for a picnic, kissing under the falls, going to a bed and breakfast in Provo and having sex. Then he would give her two tickets to Africa and they would leave together.
"I was really shocked and just kind of taken aback, because I had no idea that's kind of what he was leading towards," she testified.
The next day, May 1, she spent the entire school day in his office. She said he told her that he was in love with her and to think about it over the weekend. She left with a friend and told her what had happened.
Over that weekend, she said she couldn't sleep or eat. She ended up having an anxiety attack and had to go to the hospital. She said Pratt was worried about her and kept calling and texting her, saying he shouldn't have done what he did. But she told him that he couldn't walk away and pretend nothing had happened. That night, she said, Pratt went to her aunt's house and gave her a blessing.
Then on May 6, he gave her his car keys and she left school, she said. She hid in the backseat of his car and he drove away. They ended up at Bridal Veil Falls, then at Vivian Park in Provo Canyon where he performed sex acts on her inside an abandoned train car.
The girl testified of numerous encounters, including some in a ravine near her home and at a waterfall and a meadow in Pleasant Grove. In one instance, her mother caught the girl in Pratt's car near their home, and her father told Pratt he was to have no contact with the girl after the school year. After the school year ended, the girl attended Especially For Youth, but left the weeklong event twice. The first time was to meet Pratt, and the second was when she was hospitalized with the novel H1N1 virus, which Pratt also had, she said.
She testified the couple also met at an abandoned house in her neighborhood on June 22. There, the couple were seen by two girls and a man who was there taking photos of things that were broken in the yard. Prosecutors displayed photos of the home taken by the man that show Pratt's car in the driveway. The couple fought over a boy who kissed the girl at EFY, and Pratt pushed a note under the door to a bathroom where she had locked herself in.
"I love you more than air, forever," the note read.
She also detailed an incident on June 25, when she was staying with her grandparents. He picked her up at a restaurant in Pleasant Grove, she said, and they drove to Santaquin, ate breakfast and then drove to an old mine in Eureka. She testified that they performed sex acts on each other in the mine and attempted to have sexual intercourse. They then went skinny dipping in a hot springs in Santaquin and again attempted to have sexual intercourse at his car.
Although the girl testified readily of the encounters, she was adamant she never had sex with Pratt. Kawai argued Pratt never raped the girl because he did not penetrate her. However, the judge found there was enough evidence of a rape due to the girl's testimony that he "barely" penetrated her. Johnson said a 17-year-old's definition of penetration can greatly contrast with the statute.
Detective Melissa Stout, with the Utah County Sheriff's Department, testified of interviewing the victim and Pratt, as well as performing several search warrants. Stout said Pratt sat next to her at the county jail as she wrote a probable cause statement detailing the allegations.
"Oh, she remembers everything," Stout said Pratt commented when he saw the statement.
Stout said officers found several items in places where the girl said they would be, including her bracelet under the seat of his car and "Dum-Dum" wrappers in the mine. Stout said the girl was very forthcoming with information about the relationship, though Kawai questioned her methods.
In the taped interview, Stout lied to the girl and said she had already spoken to Pratt, and he had told her everything. She also said Pratt was not planning on leaving his wife. In subsequent interviews, the girl became more unhappy with the relationship she had with Pratt, Stout testified.
"And this is all based off of your lie to her," Kawai said, asking Stout if she knows the witness tampering statute.
Outside the courtroom, Thomas said Stout's lies to the victim are a common tactic in interviews, not witness tampering. The lie is only witness tampering if the goal is to get a person to not tell the truth, she said.
"What Det. Stout did was all designed to get the witness to tell the truth," she said.
The prosecution also presented several sworn statements from witnesses, including other seminary teachers. One teacher testified he heard Pratt singing a song to the girl alone in his office, while strumming a guitar Pratt borrowed from the teacher. Another testified that he finalized a necklace purchase on eBay that Pratt said was for his wife, but was actually for the girl's birthday. Pratt allegedly told the teacher he would not be by a computer when the auction ended, so he needed help finalizing the purchase. Another teacher testified that on June 29, shortly after Pratt's alleged trip to Santaquin with the girl, he asked Pratt what he had done over the weekend.
"Mr. Pratt disclosed to him that he had gone skinny dipping," Stout read from the statement.