Retired high school teacher acquitted of indecent assault charges

A two-day trial ended with a not-guilty verdict for Leo Frame on two counts of indecent assault and battery on a former student.

Flanked by his lawyers and assistant district attorney Laura Marshard, Leo Frame Jr., center, charged with two accounts of indecent assault and battery, waits to hear the jury's verdict. — Photo by Michael Cummo

Updated 9:15 am, September 23

Retired Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School business teacher Leo Frame Jr. of Edgartown was found not guilty Friday afternoon in Edgartown District Court on two charges of indecent assault and battery on a person 14 years of age or over. Mr. Frame was accused of assaulting an 18-year-old former student in June of 2013.

Following a two-day trial presided over by Judge J. Thomas Kirkman, the six-person jury deliberated just one hour and delivered its verdict at 2:40 pm.

The young woman who had accused Mr. Frame of indecent assault cried silently when the verdict was announced, and swiftly exited the Dukes County Courthouse with her family.

Mr. Frame and his wife, Janice Frame, a retired regional high school art teacher, who supported him throughout the trial, embraced in a prolonged hug.

Lawyers John A. Amabile of Brockton and Robert Moriarty of Edgartown represented Mr. Frame. “I think the jury got it right, and we’re happy that they paid attention to the evidence,” Mr. Moriarty told The Times following the trial. Mr. Amabile said he was “grateful to the jury for reaching the just verdict.”

Cape and Islands Assistant District Attorney Laura Marshard prosecuted the case for the Commonwealth. She declined to comment.

Mr. Frame, a widely respected community leader and student mentor, had only recently retired after a 23-year teaching career when he was arrested on August 29, 2013, on two charges of assaulting a former student.

Mr. Frame is the founder and leader of Young Brothers to Men, a group that pairs high schoolers with mentors from the Island and focuses on community service efforts that develop leadership skills among young male students.

Phone call and arrest

According to the police report, Mr. Frame, 65 at the time, invited the 18-year-old 2013 graduate to his house on June 27, 2013. During that visit, the victim told police, Mr. Frame squeezed her buttocks.

Three days later, Mr. Frame asked her to come to his house again, this time to help tutor another student, police said. When she arrived, there was no one else in the house. The victim told police that Mr. Frame began to remove her shirt, and repeatedly touched her inappropriately in a way that left her confused and afraid.

According to the police report, the victim’s mother told police Mr. Frame repeatedly called and texted the young woman following the incidents, but she did not respond. The victim’s mother told police that Mr. Frame then approached her daughter where she worked as a town lifeguard. The victim’s mother notified police on August 28, 2013. The victim provided police with a 17-page statement detailing the encounters.

Police arrested Mr. Frame at his house the next day. He was released on $500 bail.

Phony charges

Often combative, Mr. Amabile presented the majority of the courtroom defense.

During questioning, Mr. Amabile asked the victim why she didn’t call police during the second incident if she was as scared as she described.

“You are familiar with 911?” Mr. Amabile asked her, after confirming she had her cell phone with her at the time.

The victim said she was shocked and didn’t want to spend any more time in his house, so she left instead.

“Do you want the jury to believe that he sexually assaulted you and you came back to his house three days later?” Mr. Amabile asked her.

She answered yes, and that she returned because she believed Mrs. Frame would be there.

Mr. Amabile asked her why she waited so long to tell her mom about the incidents, at which point the victim began to cry on the witness stand.

“The reason I took so long to tell my mom is that it’s a very difficult thing to talk about,” she said. She later explained that the second friend she told about the incidents had advised her to forget about it and that no one would believe her.

Mr. Amabile repeatedly asked the victim about text messages from Mr. Frame that both her mother and her friend referenced in conversations with police, but which never showed up in phone records Lieutenant Chris Dolby obtained from the cell phone company.

The victim told Mr. Amabile that she never told anyone about text messages, only that Mr. Frame had called her. Phone records showed a series of phone calls between the first visit and up until July 9, 2013.

Mrs. Frame, the final witness, told the jury that she was there during the entirety of the first visit and that during the time the victim alleged Mr. Frame had inappropriately touched her, the two were directly in her line of vision. The victim and her friend denied that Mrs. Frame was in the room at the time.

In his closing statement, Mr. Amabile said that the witnesses who testified for the prosecution did not corroborate the victim’s police statement, and that her own testimony was inconsistent. He said phone records did not support the victim’s claim of repeated text and phone messages from Mr. Frame. “This is not a parlor game,” Mr. Amabile told jurors. He urged jurors not to render a verdict based on sympathy, and referred to the charges as “phony.”

The victim cried quietly in the audience as Mr. Amabile told jurors that the victim “flat out lied” to them. He referred to parts of her testimony as “bologna,” and questioned her demeanor on the witness stand, which he said varied from giddiness to tears.

“That was not the demeanor of a credible witness,” he said. He said the victim’s mother dragged her into this process against her will.

Mr. Amabile was critical of the Edgartown police. “This is a case where police arrested first and investigated later,” he told the jurors.

“The entire story was scripted,” he said, accusing the prosecution of painting Mr. Frame as a grandfather-like figure who turned on the victim.

Consistent evidence

Assistant District Attorney Laura Marshard largely focused on the preexisting trustful and mentoring relationship between the victim and Mr. Frame. During cross-examination, Mrs. Frame told Ms. Marshard that she and her husband regarded the victim warmly and that she believed the victim felt safe with them.

Mrs. Frame confirmed that though she and her husband had retired during the summer, both of them still had access to the high school and their respective offices, where Mr. Frame and the young woman initially planned to meet.

In her closing statement, Ms. Marshard acknowledged small inconsistencies in the testimony, such as whether the victim wore a jacket during one of the alleged incidents, but she said, the overall evidence was consistent with the timelines presented.

Ms. Marshard told jurors that the witnesses who testified had nothing to win or lose in the case, and that the victim and her friend corroborated their stories “remarkably.”

Ms. Marshard said both students claimed to have visited the Frame residence around 8 pm on the night of the first incident, except for Mrs. Frame, who said it was after 10 pm.

“What does she have to lose?” Ms. Marshard asked the jury.

She rebuffed claims by the defense that the student was infatuated with Mr. Frame. Ms. Marshard said Mr. Frame was the one who harbored inappropriate feelings.

“Did you see one ounce of anything that was worth the statement that [the victim] was infatuated with Mr. Frame?” she asked the jury.

Ms. Marshard said that the victim described being squeezed in the first incident. “Not a brush,” she said, arguing that such a deliberate touch demonstrated intent. She reiterated that the victim said Mr. Frame was breathing heavily as he inappropriately touched her during the second incident.

“Ask yourself how [the victim] dealt with this,” Ms. Marshard said.

“Why would she go back?” she asked jurors. “Because he said his wife and [a student] were there. She trusted him.”

Ms. Marshard told the jury that despite the defense claims, there was no evidence that the young woman’s mother dragged her into the prosecution.

“He needs to be held accountable,” Ms. Marshard said.

Notwithstanding a parade of witnesses who praised Mr. Frame’s character and his reputation as an upstanding, involved Island community member, he still had the capacity to commit illegal acts, she said.

“I, too, ask you to scrutinize,” Ms. Marshard said.