By: Julia Deng
MIDLAND - The mother of a Sam Houston Elementary School student is enraged the "court system failed [her]" after a substitute teacher was acquitted of indecency charges.
Jamie Elrod's 12-year-old daughter, whose name and image were withheld from NewsWest 9 broadcasts, claimed Juan Melendez touched her crotch area while he was subbing for her 5th grade teacher in October 2013.
About 20 students from the classroom initially came forward with complaints about the substitute teacher; he was later indicted on nine charges.
Melendez, 64, was ultimately only found guilty of two charges of injury to a child and one charge of assault, and sentenced to a combined ten years of probation. He was not convicted of any charges relating to molestation or sexual contact.
"It was terrifying for my daughter to get up there [on the witness stand] and testify in court, but she did it," said Elrod. "For them to just let him off [indecency charges] after all that is a slap in our faces. It's infuriating. It's disgusting."
She told NewsWest 9 her daughter had suffered long-term psychological damage as a result of Melendez's alleged behavior.
"Since then, she's been in therapy once a week. [She sees a] psychiatrist once a month. They diagnosed her with PTSD, anxiety and depression."
According to Elrod, legal loopholes and "holes in the criminal justice system" allowed Melendez's defense team to tear apart her daughter's testimony.
"They put a terrified girl on the stand and asked her all these little things from a year and a half ago that she wouldn't be able to remember," she said. "'What were you wearing? What was the layout of the room?' Of course she couldn't remember that. She was traumatized by what was happening. She is a victim and they tried to make her look like a liar."
Israel Guardiola, an Odessa attorney who defended Melendez, explained how inconsistencies in Elrod and her daughter's accounts likely invalidated their claims in the eyes of jurors.
"Her daughter had told her that the touching had actually been under her clothes, which was totally different than what her actual testimony was," he told NewsWest 9.
The mother apparently testified there had been skin-to-skin contact, while the daughter did not say that on the stand.
Ultimately, the jury decided the incident in question did not even happen.
"I think the jury saw it for what it was, and that was an investigation that had gotten out of hand," said Guardiola.
He said a critical mistake that "led to a poisoning of the evidence" was made when teachers questioned students together, rather than speaking to them about Melendez individually.
"I think the children maybe either made allegations that were untrue or [had been] exaggerated by their perception that Mr. Melendez was a monster," he explained. "They were placed in an atmosphere that made them look at him and his actions through a different lens. In that light, they probably truly did believe he had touched them inappropriately."
Elrod said she was "physically sick" when she discovered Melendez had not been found guilty of inappropriately touching her daughter.
Another woman, whose two nephews attend Sam Houston, said it was "ridiculous" he had only been sentenced to probation.
However, one Sam Houston father does not agree.
"In fact, my children go to this very school where Mr. Melendez was teaching," said Guardiola. "Had I not really believed that my client was innocent of these charges, I would not have gotten involved in the case."