Judge Not

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

Robinson asked Himes about the tone of his interview with Zimmerman and says Himes doesn't recall any antagonism; in fact, he says, Himes doesn't remember even discussing religion with Zimmerman. "If Mr. Zimmerman has concerns about an investigation of mine, we have an internal process I'd be happy to talk to him about," Robinson says.

Prior to any hearings, the District Attorney's Office for the 18th Judicial District, which includes Arapahoe, Elbert, Lincoln and Douglas counties, offered Zimmerman a deal: If he pled guilty to two Class 3 felonies, he'd face a minimum mandatory prison sentence of twenty years to life. Zimmerman wasn't about to accept that. He wanted a jury of his peers to hear the case -- and fast. But his attorney's back surgeries and various scheduling problems kept delaying the trial. "The first three to four months were unbearable," he says. "There were times I'd wake up at night like, 'Is this really happening?' You try to mow the lawn and do ordinary things, and all of a sudden it hits you. It was crippling. If it wasn't for such good family and friends, I wouldn't have made it."

Despite his anguish, Zimmerman and his wife tried to maintain a normal life for their two sons, who were five and nine at the time. "My older son asked me why I didn't go to work anymore. I just told him I lost my job."

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.

"For me, the last twenty months were extremely difficult. I watched our lives get turned upside down, and Randy lost the career he had worked so hard to establish," Carol Zimmerman noted in an e-mail message to Westword. (Zimmerman says his wife is tired of talking about the toll his case has had on their family and that she wished only to respond in writing.) "There were many times that I worried for Randy's safety and how I would raise our boys without him. I never thought I'd have to worry about such a thing."

For a while, at least, they didn't have to worry about his loss of income. Zimmerman is grateful to Aurora Public Schools, which kept him on the payroll for more than a year. But when August 2002 arrived with no trial date, the district had to cut him off. Zimmerman applied for all kinds of jobs that didn't involve children but wasn't offered a thing. "I don't know how much of it was the economy and how much was the trial," he says.

In December, a court date was finally set: February 3, 2003.

In previous statements she'd given the sheriff's office and court, Mary said Zimmerman started molesting her when she was twelve. She claimed he'd assaulted her numerous times -- in her parents' van, in a church van, in a cemetery, in a recreation center and in Zimmerman's townhouse -- but that it stopped before her freshman year of high school.

But attorney Newell started punching holes in her allegations with his opening statement, when he produced a purchase contract showing that Zimmerman hadn't even bought his townhouse until Mary's sophomore year of high school.

When she took the stand, Mary said she'd remembered incorrectly -- that the abuse actually started when she was in high school. But juror Jeramy Vierk wasn't sympathetic. "She changed her story to match the evidence!" says Vierk, who worked with male felons at a halfway house in Centennial before starting his own mortgage company. "The prosecution didn't do any due diligence to verify that what she said happened actually could have happened."

Christine Schober, the deputy district attorney who prosecuted the case, says Mary's definition of abuse differed from the legal definition. To Mary, Schober explains, the abuse really began when Zimmerman started grooming her by complimenting her and earning her trust.

But there were other inconsistencies in Mary's story. For example, she said Zimmerman molested her during sleepovers at his townhouse, but other youth group members testified that he never held sleepovers at his home; the only slumber parties they attended were at church. Another assault, Mary said, occurred late one night in Littleton's Chapel Hill Cemetery. However, that cemetery closes at sunset. She also said Zimmerman put his hand down her pants while they were riding in a van during a youth group ski trip; they were surrounded by other kids when it happened, she explained, and Zimmerman was talking to them while he touched her. Apparently, no one else noticed.

"She was talking about things that happened ten years ago," Schober explains. "Of course [her memories] faded over time."

Mary told the court that she only came forward after all this time because a friend of hers had seen Zimmerman on the 16th Street Mall with a middle-school-aged girl, then saw him another time drunk at a bar with a young woman and yet again at a restaurant late one night with a male friend and a different young woman. Mary explained that she didn't want anyone else to have to endure what she did. But the friend who supposedly told her all this testified that she'd only seen Zimmerman once, at a restaurant with a youth group supervisor and his girlfriend.

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