From the Valley Times, Pleasanton, CA, May 27, 1995

Molester Shumate Sentenced to 14 Years

Ex-teacher says he's victim of false charges

Staff Writer
HAYWARD -- Despite an emotional proclamation of innocence from the former Pleasanton kindergarten teacher, an Alameda County superior court judge lashed out at convicted child molester Neil Shumate on Friday with a 14-year prison term and harsh criticisms of his denials.

"My opinion is based on everything I know from the information in the trial and the (45-page) probation report. And what came forward in the trial is only the tip of the iceberg," Judge John F. Kraetzer said. "It galls me that you stand in front of the press, the parents and everyone else and remain in complete, total and utter denial."

Although Kraetzer said the sentence was only tentative, it will likely be made final at a court hearing on June 14 unless Shumate's new defense attorney, Thomas Burton of Pleasanton, can find legal grounds to challenge the term.

Kraetzer also denied a motion for a new trial based on allegations of jury misconduct and said any other legal efforts seeking a new trial for Shumate should be taken up on appeal.

Shumate, 50, a former teacher at Fairlands Elementary School in Pleasanton, was convicted Feb. 6 of 16 counts of child molestation involving seven students and two former foster children.

The emotionally charged hourlong hearing included several tearful outbursts from the gallery, which was packed mostly with Shumate supporters.

Derek Clark, 24, of Livermore, a former foster child who lived with the Shumates for 17 years, urged the judge to look into his heart and see that Shumate is innocent.

"I was a foster kid, and nothing ever happened," Clark said, sobbing.

Shumate, who received permission to change defense attorneys in a closed session with the judge Friday, also got his say in court.

Prefacing his comments by saying his previous attorney, Patrick Clancy, advised him not to testify during the trial, Shumate said he wanted the chance to tell the court what happened.

Taking the children's stories one by one, Shumate said each child's allegations were obviously false.

"(One said) I put my hands in her pants and rubbed her buttocks. I could understand her parents being outraged," Shumate said. Yet no one ever asked her to explain that touch, and the motion she demonstrated in the courtroom was nothing more than fingertips in a waistband, he said.

He continued detailing the "false accusations" made by other children, at one point practically accusing one of the mothers of making up her child's report because she was mad that Shumate felt her daughter was too young for kindergarten.

The handful of parents who attended the sentencing sat stoically as Shumate made his 25-minute statement.

Seeming to swallow back tears, Shumate concluded: "If I had in any way done anything to any children that could possibly be construed as inappropriate, I'm terribly, terrible sorry. I do not believe I did, nor would I. I loved your children."

He added that he even loved the girl he felt was too young for kindergarten. That comment prompted her mother to respond, "Fondling her was out of love?"

As the judge adjourned the session, several Shumate supporters shouted, "This isn't America." "This is Gestapo Germany" and "There will be justice."

Afterward, Senior Deputy District Attorney Jill Hiatt said she was appalled by Shumate's comments.

"I don't think he was in the same courtroom I was in. He certainly had a different slant to a lot of things," she said. "It was a great travesty that all those parents of the victims had to listen to that . . . The parents were angry that someone could offend against their child and then stand there and lecture them."

Referring to the judge's comments, Hiatt said that since the trial, several former students of Shumate's, including some 17- and 18-year-olds, have reported that they were molested, too.

Hiatt said she was pleased with the sentence and believes the parents were, too. Their children will likely be out of school by the time Shumate is back on the streets, she said.

"I think at the end of his sentence, he'll get out and be just as ill as when he went in. You can't help someone who refuses to understand how serious this problem is."

She noted that he might have received more leniency if he admitted his crimes and expressed remorse.

Shumate faced a maximum term of 35 years, although Kraetzer had some of the sentences run concurrently. With credit for good behavior and for working while in prison, he could be released in seven years.

Burton called the sentence "far too harsh" and said he will continue to seek a new trial for Shumate. But he said it was too early to say what grounds there might be for appeals.

Joan Shumate, the defendant's wife, said she wasn't surprised by the sentence. The judge had indicated his stance at a hearing in April, when he said he would probably deny a new trial.

Joan Shumate, who has supported her husband, said she believed the children who testified made false allegations. False testimony could do them as much damage as if they were molested, she added. "These children who believe in lies will have ahead of them a horrendous guilt trip."

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