Lawyers make closing arguments in child sex-abuse trial

Jurors now deliberating charges for Michael Airo, former Palo Alto teacher

The prosecution and defense made their closing arguments Thursday and Friday in the trial of Michael Airo, a former Ohlone Elementary School teacher accused of sexually abusing his ex-girlfriend's daughter more than a decade ago in Palo Alto.

The jury is now deliberating the case and must unanimously agree on separate verdicts for each of the charges he faces.

The prosecution, which has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that he is guilty, argued that that Airo, now 36, groomed the young girl and that what he did "behind closed doors" was corroborated by witness testimony and other evidence throughout the nine-day trial in Palo Alto.

"Beyond a reasonable doubt" is defined by law as "proof that leaves you with an abiding conviction that the charge is true."

Airo has denied all allegations and pleaded not guilty to the charges brought against him.

Santa Clara County Prosecutor Lindsay Walsh urged the jury to "reject the unreasonable" and convict Airo of the four felonies he's been charged with: one count of continuous sexual abuse of a minor under the age of 14 and three counts of lewd or lascivious acts with the use of force, violence, duress, menace or fear of immediate and unlawful bodily injury on the victim or another person.

In her closing argument, Walsh focused on the relevant law in this case and how the evidence applies. The first charge Airo faces, continuous sexual abuse of a minor, requires that the jurors agree that Airo willfully engaged in at three or more acts of abuse and that there was at least three months between the first and last act, but they do not have to agree that the same three acts took place. The prosecution did not have the burden to prove that they took place on a particular date, but rather proximate to a time range.

The girl, who is now 26 and the Weekly will refer to as Anne Doe to protect her privacy, testified this week that Airo touched her inappropriately in the shower at the home they shared in Palo Alto in the early 2000s at least once or twice a month from her fifth grade through eighth grade years.

A sexual assault conviction can be made based solely on the complaining witness' testimony, if the jury finds it credible beyond a reasonable doubt, Judge Allison Marston Danner told the jurors in their instructions. Character testimony for Airo is also sufficient to introduce reasonable doubt, she said.

Walsh described behavior Doe and others testified to — Airo frequently holding Doe's hand in public, Doe sitting on Airo's lap, Doe calling him "daddy" and taking his last name — as "desensitizing" her.

For the jury to find Airo guilty of the other three counts, there must be evidence of force, violence, duress, menace or fear.

Duress, Walsh argued, is central to this case. Duress is defined under the law as "a direct or implied threat of force, violence, danger, or retribution sufficient to coerce a reasonable person … to perform an act which otherwise would not have been performed, or acquiesce in an act to which one otherwise would not have submitted." The law asks that the "total circumstances," including a victim's age and relationship to the defendant, be considered when determining if duress exists.

Doe was 11 to 13 years old at the time of the alleged abuse and viewed Airo as a father and authority figure she couldn't say "no" to, Walsh said. Doe also testified that when she sometimes crossed her arms over her body to cover herself in the shower, Airo physically moved her arms so he could allegedly kiss her breasts, stomach and buttocks.

The jury can decide Airo is not guilty of the charges he faces but still find him guilty of two lesser offenses. The lesser charge to continuous sexual abuse is lewd or lascivious acts. The lesser charge to lewd or lascivious acts is battery, or willfully touching a person in a harmful manner.

Michael Armstrong, Airo's defense attorney, argued in his closing statement that Airo was not a calculated abuser but a naive participant in a complex family dynamic. Armstrong also suggested that Doe's sister, with whom Airo had conflict, prompted Doe to falsely accuse Airo of sexual abuse.

Major family decisions the prosecution portrayed as Airo's efforts to insert himself in Doe's life as her father, including moving into their home and her taking his last name, were decisions her mother initiated and Airo agreed to, Armstrong said. Doe's mother, about 20 years older than Airo, was the primary decision-maker, Armstrong argued.

He said that Doe's half-sister, who is two years younger than Airo, resented Airo's age difference with her mother and the "adult" role he assumed in their house. She previously testified to conducting a periodic "anatomy analysis" with her younger sister — asking Doe if Airo had touched her inappropriately on specific body parts. (Doe always said he hadn't, her sister testified.)

Armstrong argued that this perpetual questioning resulted in Doe having dreams about Airo touching her in these specific body parts years later, prompting her to see a therapist and eventually disclose the alleged abuse in 2014.

"I submit to you that that's not a coincidence," Armstrong told the jurors.

Armstrong questioned why Doe changed the date of when the alleged abuse began, from sixth grade in her preliminary hearing deposition to fifth grade when she testified this week, after she had conversations with her sister.

Several character witnesses for Airo — two mothers of children he taught at Ohlone, an instructional aide, a school psychologist, his longtime friend and his half brother — all testified that Airo was honest and had never behaved sexually inappropriately with children in their presence. The parents described ways in which he helped their children and his positive reputation at Ohlone as a caring, popular teacher.

A forensic psychologist retained by the defense to evaluate Airo, Brian Abbot, also testified that he found Airo is not disposed to commit sexual offenses against children and is not a pedophile.

Walsh, in her cross-examination of Abbot, questioned the veracity of his findings by reading from his report on Airo: that the results should be "reviewed with caution" because Airo "tended to portray himself as being relatively free from common shortcomings to which individuals admit."

"This response style does not reflect an intentional effort to manipulate the test but it rather indicates that Mr. Airo lacks insight into himself and he tends to repress undesirable characteristics," Walsh said Abbot's report states.

The 12 jurors have through next week to deliberate. Danner instructed the jurors not to consider the lawyers' closing arguments as evidence, but rather rely on the sworn testimony and evidence presented during the trial. They must reach a verdict without any consideration of potential punishment for Airo.


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4 people like this
Posted by @PAFreePress
a resident of another community
on Feb 10, 2018 at 2:51 pm

Closing arguments play a vital role in sumerising whether thier client is guilty or not guily. To have the judge suggest otherwise or imply not to consider what they have laid out in support of thier client is tantamount to jury tampering. Jurors should listen intently to not only opening statements but more importantly closing arguments. LAW ON CLOSING ARGUMENT Web Link You should not have anyone instruct you to essentially check out conscience at the door.... You have have the right to consider everything...and if you feel the the law is incorrect or unjust, then you have the moral right to proclaim, Guilt or Not guilty..

Like this comment
Posted by wut
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 10, 2018 at 9:33 pm

[Post removed.]

5 people like this
Posted by Gary MV
a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 12, 2018 at 11:37 am

Gary MV is a registered user.

[Portion removed.] The judge is required to make rulings about the admissibility of evidence presented and to instruct the jury on the law. In a society of laws, juries are not free to conduct their own moral or immoral trials - considering "evidence" and reaching determinations based on nothing more than their own values and judgment. Innocent defendants want a process controlled by the law. Only a plainly guilty defendant would want runaway jurors who would do whatever they like.

7 people like this
Posted by ScientistPsychologis12
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Feb 15, 2018 at 8:49 pm

ScientistPsychologis12 is a registered user.

Actually no. No sex occurred, the alleged crime was regarding kisses to certain locations on the body. Juries as noted are to find the defendant guilty beyond reasonable doubt, instead an abundance of doubt exists and the jury dismissed the defendants evidence shown by their focus toward the victim's testimony and what she looked like as a 11 year old. How does her photo at age 11 mean anything when convicting someone of up to 40 yrs in jail. Sounds comedically not equitable to me. Thank goodness I am not a male in today's society of "trawling" for victims and by law enforcement. If the jury considered values they would have known the defendant was only ever a positive role model to his girlfriend's children. The completed his high school education, college coursework, and employment all at the same time as transporting the girls to and from school and their activities as well as supporting his girl friend through her troubling emotional distress and overall difficult life and childhood the family had. If you ask me, the 18 year old defendant was unwise to date a family with a broken home, not so good birth father, two children, and a girlfriend who has emotional breakdowns where he has to bus her to and from work because she can't even drive herself. This caring young 18 year old was crazy to be in a 7 yr relationship with the women. Once the relationship ended, why if he was obsessive or possessive would he never contact them ever again and break all ties from them immediately? You all judge but you did not sit in the courtroom to hear both sides of each story.

7 people like this
Posted by CGMomof4
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 20, 2018 at 1:00 pm

CGMomof4 is a registered user.

I am a mom of 4 mostly grown girls and I think children are pliable when young and a dream/thought can evolve into something the child can believe as a strong/real memory. As a nurses aid myself for over 30 years with MH/MR youth in home settings, I have seen young children come out of such troubled home settings that they accuse and manipulate adults with lies. For them fantasy and reality blend. It is not even a question of a lie. They believe the fantasy and it is becomes reality to them. The sister’s questions could have led to dreams that felt real and vivid and the young lady could have been unable to tell the difference. It is inevitable that the questions influenced her sister. I put more weight on the mother's testimony here and feel she would have known something or saw but she did not. Mom's know when things feel weird and as a victim myself of rape I feel the mother would have known if things were weird. Some kids are scary in their ability to manipulate adults and maybe she knew the older sister to be jealous, we don’t know. Young adults blatantly lie to get adult attention or cover other bad behavior, say totally inaccurate things for attention or money. I do not believe in blaming any victim, but I also think we have no proof on the adult here either. He says he didn't do this. I put some weight on his testimony and defense too. They should mean something. It is possible that the child is seeking attention or money as a victim. I think sometimes we don't hear the whole story. This young man’s reputation is crushed. Based on my knowledge, I believe he didn't do it.

He has worked for years since as an excellent teacher. There are disturbed and confused kids in our world and other explanations exist for what this child said. There is no way to get this young man his reputation back now that we crucified him. He took the stand saying he did not do it. I think for me it speaks volumes to his character because most accused would not take the stand and do not have too. He did so for us, not because he had to in any way. I hope he can stand tall and gain respect for doing so. I think he is innocent and needs a chance to come back from this. I hesitate to throw him under the bus when there are so many other things to consider. The young girl's mom said his interactions with her daughter were always appropriate. That is two adults saying it didn't happen.

My biggest fear in life as I work for the public for many years is not being able to sufficiently cover my butt and the ease for someone to slander or lie to kill my good reputation. This poor young man's life is over. He struggles with my worst nightmare. His future in teaching is over. Over for many other careers too. Does this young girl qualify for some kind of victims benefits? Can she sue him and benefit from bringing this case to fruition? I hope that there is no alterior motive to do this.

It haunts me that it took so many years for this young adult to come forward. What are we not being told? Can we punish someone with only one person’s word and another’s word founded on suggestive questioning? There is no way back from from this type of accusation. These accusations should be handled and evaluated with care so innocent individuals are not convicted. That would be horrific.

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Like this comment
Posted by Gary MV
a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 20, 2018 at 2:06 pm

Gary MV is a registered user.

I gather from the last two anonymous posts that the defendant was found guilty of some crime(s). Was there a follow-up article?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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