Bulloch County Superior Court Judge Gates Peed denied bond Wednesday for a former Bulloch County middle school teacher charged with the sexual molestation of a teenage male student.
In an arraignment immediately following the hearing in Courtroom A of the county Judicial Annex, Amy Bass Jackson, who resigned her position as a language arts teacher at William James Middle School after the accusations came to light in late July, entered a plea of “not guilty.”
She was arrested July 27 and charged with aggravated child molestation, three counts of child molestation, statutory rape, enticing a child for indecent purposes, sexual assault by a person with supervisory or disciplinary authority, two counts computer or electronic child exploitation, sexual exploitation of children and six counts of furnishing harmful material to minors.
Jackson, 35, entered the courtroom in a faded gray and white striped jail jumpsuit, leg shackles and handcuffs. She sat quietly while witnesses testified about the case and whether she would be a flight risk.
Michael Muldrew, assistant district attorney with the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit, argued that the gravity of Jackson’s charges, the possibility of a maximum sentence of life in prison and the fact that she was placed on suicide watch in the Bulloch County Jail were reasons to deny bond.
Jackson’s attorneys Simms Lanier and Lovett Bennett Jr. countered with the fact that Jackson has family in Bulloch County, cooperated during the investigation and has numerous supporters who vouched for her stability.
After hearing from both the prosecution and defense, Peed denied bond with an agreement that the bond issue would be reviewed again after psychological and other evaluations were made.
Bulloch County Sheriff’s chief investigator Capt. Todd Hutchens testified about the case, stating phone records for Jackson’s cell phone as well as the 14-year-old victim’s cell phone contained numerous phone messages, texts, and photographs that proved Jackson had inappropriate sexual contact, including intercourse with the teen.
There was “constant, very frequent text messaging” between the two that included messages “that were sexually explicit in nature by both,” he said. The child was a student of Jackson, who taught in Evans County before coming to Bulloch County three years ago.
Some text messages referred to plans made for a sexual encounter, he said. A planned trip to Savannah July 12 to go to a motel was usurped by Jackson’s going to the victim’s home July 11, he said.
The visit to his home for the purpose of having sex was under pretense of her taking the teen to lunch with her children, ages 5 and 7, Hutchens said.
Text messages showed the teen victim’s apprehension about the visit, which Hutchens said Jackson initiated. The teen expressed worries through text messages that a neighbor may see Jackson’s vehicle in the driveway, or that he would be unable to complete chores assigned to him that day and would get into trouble, he said.
Jackson’s interacting with the teen, including Facebook exchanges, attending his baseball games, and taking him places, as well as the nature of the texts, indicated Jackson was infatuated with the boy, he said.
Hutchens also testified that the victim’s stepmother and father expressed concerns via email to Jackson about her relationship with their son, and Jackson replied with protests via email that she felt like "he was a son," with no interest beyond that.
There was also a text from Jackson to the victim threatening bodily harm against the teen’s stepmother, he said. Other texts from the victim referred to his parents’ worries.
Jackson admitted sending a photograph of her breasts to the teen by cell phone, admitted to allowing him to fondle her breasts, and admitted to investigators her sexual involvement with the teen, Hutchens said on the witness stand.
Bennett argued that Jackson is not a flight risk. He said she cooperated with investigators, turned her phone over willingly and turned herself in. She has no prior criminal history and would remain in Bulloch County with her husband and children, he said.
Among a stack of letters of support from friends was a letter from Jackson’s husband, Michael Jackson. Muldrew objected to the letter being read during the hearing then said Jackson’s having been kept in solitary confinement during the first portion of her jail stay indicated she was a flight risk.
Hutchens testified Jackson was kept in solitary confinement because of a concern that she may harm herself as well as the danger that other inmates could harm her, considering the nature of her charges and the fact that she was a teacher, and the victim a juvenile student.
Several people took the stand in Jackson’s favor, testifying they believed she would not flee if released on bond. Those witnesses included her parents, Donald and Clara Bass, who live in North Carolina.
“Amy is a good person,” Clara Bass said. “This is a horrible thing that she did … she just made a mistake.”
Muldrew said he had never seen a case with “charges of this nature” have a bond set for the accused. The nature of the charges as well as the fact that Jackson faces between 25 years minimum or life plus 120 years maximum if convicted of those charges, would indicate she would be a flight risk, he said.
After discussion about psychological and other evaluations, Peed denied Jackson bond, but said after further review of the evaluation results and consideration of Jackson’s marital future, including whether a divorce is pending, the bond issue could be revisited.
Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.