AMERICAN FORK — A judge on Tuesday declined to postpone the trial of a former seminary principal accused of having a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old student after the girl's stepfather made an emotional plea for the case to move forward.
Michael Pratt, 37, the former principal of Lone Peak High School's LDS seminary program, has pleaded not guilty to 15 felony charges. He faces 14 first-degree felony charges and one second-degree felony charge, including forcible sodomy, object rape, rape and forcible sex abuse. Prosecutors say he violated a "special position of trust," meaning the girl could not legally consent to the alleged months-long relationship last year.
An eight-day trial is set in 4th District Court starting April 12. Pratt's defense attorneys argued they would not have time to prepare before that, due to their busy schedule as public defenders.
"We want a speedy resolution, but we want to be prepared and effective," said Pratt's attorney, J.C. Wright.
The attorneys also said they have been unable to interview employees who worked at the seminary, although an arrangement has now been made to talk to them in the presence of an attorney for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Even so, the girl's stepfather said she has plans to go on a service trip outside the country this summer, and delaying the trial would keep her from moving on with her life.
"When this was uncovered, our lives were turned upside down," he told the court, saying the girl was forced to attend another school and lost her senior year "due to Mr. Pratt's manipulations."
He said he believes Pratt's attorneys have tried to "trivialize" the relationship and that they want the girl to turn 18 before she takes the stand at trial, so that she would appear less like a victim.
Judge Christine Johnson denied the defense's request for a two-month postponement.
"The real problem is the caseload in the public defender's office, and a continuance is not going to alleviate that," she said.
Pratt's other attorney, Dusty Kawai, said he would try to have the trial moved to another jurisdiction, or at least have the size of the jury pool increased to ensure an impartial panel.
"We're concerned that the majority of people in Utah County have already formed opinions of Mr. Pratt," he said. "Everyone knows about this case, (and) everyone knows someone who knows someone who has been taught by Michael Pratt."
Arguments are scheduled March 23 on several other pre-trial motions. Pratt's attorneys are attempting to exclude out-of-court statements made by his wife, as well as a note that was found in his car.
The lawyers say the note is a privileged communication because it mentions a place and time to meet with an attorney. It reads in part: "Keep the stuff or throw away?" and "What do I do?"
The girl, now 17, detailed at a hearing last October several sexual encounters she said she had with "Brother Pratt." She said Pratt picked her up twice from Especially For Youth, a weeklong LDS religious camp, for sexual encounters. She testified that on other occasions, she hid in his car so he could sneak her out of school.
The girl said the relationship began when Pratt took her out of seminary class to spend time in his office. He told her detailed sexual fantasies and mused about running away to get married either in Las Vegas or Africa, she said.
The teen said they had sexual encounters at locations throughout Utah County.
Pratt was arrested July 9 after the girl's parents brought the relationship to the attention of church officials. The LDS Church fired him that week.