PROVO — Two Utah County elementary school girls took the witness stand Thursday to testify that a Nebo School District bus driver inappropriately touched them in March of last year.
Marcel Dewitt faces possible life in prison if convicted on one count each of aggravated sex abuse and attempted sex abuse, both first-degree felonies. Calling the allegations against Dewitt "grave and concerning," Judge Fred Howard ordered both charges bound over for trial.
Prosecutors say the charges were enhanced because they believe Dewitt held a position of trust over children on his bus.
During Thursday's preliminary hearing in 4th District Court, the two sisters testified Dewitt tried to inappropriately touch them on separate occasions in March 2002.
The youngest victim, an 8-year-old, was brought into the courtroom sobbing and crying. After moving the proceeding into the chambers of Judge Howard, the girl confirmed that something happened that made her upset on the bus, but she did not want to talk about it.
The older victim, who is 12, testified that on March 28, Dewitt was driving her and other school children home when the incident occurred. The girl said she had received a scholastic award the day before and had gone up front to tell Dewitt about it. "He just said, 'that is great,' " the girl said. She said Dewitt then patted her on her stomach and moved his hand up to her chest.
"I went to the back seat because I was scared," she said.
The mother of the girls testified that her 8-year-old daughter came home crying the day she was allegedly assaulted.
"She was really upset and crying," the mother said. "I guess that she said that her bus driver was a pervert."
The mother said her daughter told her Dewitt tried to grab her in her private area but that she backed away before he could.
During cross examination by Dewitt's attorney, Mark Besendorfer, the mother said she had talked to her children about being wary of strangers.
"I talk to my children a lot because there are a lot of people out there that do things to children," the mother said.
Besendorfer argued in his closing statement that the state's case consisted of hearsay and misinterpretations.
Besendorfer said the state lacks credible evidence to support the allegations. "All we have here is a hand movement interpreted as a sexual act . . . the fact that you can get from just a touch to a first-degree felony is terrifying."
Besendorfer also argued that school bus drivers do not meet the threshold in Utah laws defining a position of trust for purposes of criminal enhancement.
Deputy Utah County attorney Mariane O'Bryant disagreed, saying school bus drivers are entrusted with the care and safety of children and should be considered holding a position of trust.
O'Bryant said the allegations were not based solely on hearsay and that "this was not the first time that he inappropriately touched a child." She said other children on the bus have witnessed other incidents.
Following the bind-over ruling, Dewitt entered a formal plea of not guilty to the charges. Howard then scheduled a pre-trial and motion hearing for March 27. Besendorfer said he plans to challenge the criminal enhancement and will seek to have the charges reduced.
Nebo School District officials say Dewitt was removed from bus duty immediately after the complaint from the victims' mother and was officially terminated last August.