Judge Not

Randall Zimmerman was branded a child molester. A jury finally set him free.

When Zimmerman left Mrachek Middle School that Friday afternoon in June 2001, he was thinking about the weekend ahead and looking forward to spending time with his family. As he inched along in the rush-hour traffic on I-225, his cell phone finally rang. It was Steve Newell bearing bad news: Zimmerman was going to be charged with 25 criminal counts. He couldn't believe it. Suddenly it felt like everyone was looking at him as though they knew. Like he was wearing a big M for "Molester" on his chest. His fellow freeway drivers couldn't possibly have known anything then, of course, but they would soon.

Newell wasn't sure whether the deputies had really backed off or whether they were waiting for Zimmerman at his house, so he told his client not to go home. Zimmerman drove to a friend's house in Larkspur, where he spent the night. The next day, Carol and their two boys joined him, and they all drove to Estes Park. He and Carol put on a happy face for their kids and let them ride horses, but the two of them "just sat there dumbfounded all weekend."

John Johnston
Former student Hillary Smith says Zimmerman was 
everyone's favorite teacher.
John Johnston
Former student Hillary Smith says Zimmerman was everyone's favorite teacher.

With no choice but to turn himself in, Zimmerman went to the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office Monday morning and posted a $50,000 bond, then headed home to watch his life unravel. The sheriff's office issued a press release that afternoon complete with Zimmerman's name, date of birth and home address. The release stated that Zimmerman's booking photo was available and supplied a phone number for other victims to call. That night and for three days after, every news station ran his picture and urged other victims to contact investigator Himes. None did.

In fact, just the opposite happened. Zimmerman heard from dozens of former students, youth group members and colleagues who offered to testify on his behalf if the case went to trial. "The fact that no other alleged victims came forward is pretty significant," says Mike Gallagher, who worked with Zimmerman at Sci-Tech and now teaches at Heritage High School in Littleton. "Randy suspended a lot kids in different schools, and you'd think some of them, out of sheer vindictiveness, would have come forward."

"I never thought for a moment that he did that," says former youth group member Henrich, who had been alone with Zimmerman on numerous occasions with nothing inappropriate happening. Smith seconds that. During Zimmerman's two years at RMSEL, she babysat for his kids several times; Zimmerman would drive her to and from her house and never did anything that made her feel uncomfortable.

"He was like a big brother," she says. "He's got the best character of anyone I know. He was always willing to lend a hand, and his shoulder was always there to cry on." When she heard about the accusation, she was in total shock. She never doubted for a moment that Zimmerman was innocent. And neither did Dana Miller, whose five- and seven-year-old daughters go to school with Zimmerman's boys. "He has taken care of my girls hundreds of times, and I've never seen any kind of sideways behavior from him," Miller says. "I'm 100,000 percent convinced that that accusation was complete garbage."

It was heartening for Zimmerman to know that so many people believed in him. And the people he worked with at Mrachek were equally supportive, even though the Aurora school district had to place him on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the case. "I never, ever had any inkling that Randy was anything but a 100 percent solid guy," says Greg Reed, who was a co-assistant principal with Zimmerman at Mrachek and is now principal of Daniel C. Oakes High School in Douglas County.

Still, seeing his face on television and in the newspapers was the lowest point in Zimmerman's life. And the accusation cost him an opportunity to work at Columbine High School. He had been offered an assistant principal post -- something he'd wanted since the April 1999 shootings -- and was waiting for the Jefferson County school board to approve his contract when he got arrested. Since Sci-Tech Academy was just a half-mile away from Columbine, he already knew a lot of the students and "felt it would be a privilege to help out with the healing," he says.

Now he was looking for a little of his own. Zimmerman just kept asking himself why. Why would Mary make such an accusation? Why would authorities press charges without any evidence? He speculates that Himes didn't like him because of his religious beliefs. Plus, Barnes told the sheriff's office that Zimmerman had developed a "cult-like following" among the kids at Grace Chapel and "was becoming very influential in ways the church did not approve."

"You have a cop who's a Christian, a girl who's a Christian and a pastor who says I'm a cult leader," Zimmerman notes.

Himes deferred comment to Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson, who reviewed his investigators' report and sat down with Himes and Hodgkin after Westword contacted him. "I think the investigation was done as thoroughly as possible," Robinson says. "The DA's office took the case, and the judge at the preliminary hearing determined there was probable cause to go to trial, so that tells me the judicial-review process was in place."

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