Last week, horrible news hit the towns of Starksboro and Bristol, Vt., like the proverbial ton of bricks. It was reported that a young music teacher at both the Robinson and Bristol elementary schools, has been charged by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation with allegedly distributing child pornography.
In both towns, we understand, parents and others are understandably disturbed, angry and worried, about the safety of their children in these communities.
Public school teacher Will Parini, 28, has been charged by the FBIwith allegedly distributing digital child pornography images on the Internet. Federal agents allege that Mr. Parini's e-mails included nude images of boys and girls, as well as others showing children in sex acts with adults.
Mr. Parini was suspended from school after the FBInews broke last week. He is now free and living in the area until his court date.
Child pornography is a big business these days. It is a slithering, shadowy Hydra that is simply not going away any time soon.
According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, child pornography is a multi-billion dollar industry in the U.S. alone. It was among the fastest growing criminal segments on the Internet in 2010.
The FBI report alleges that Mr. Parini used an online alias, "Bill Monday," in online exchanges. He allegedly posted an online comment remarking-"Beautiful photos! If I find any more good stuff I will send it... do you like girls too?" If this is found to be true in court, it's certainly damning evidence. Yet there's some good news to come out of the FBI investigation: none of the children in the seized photographs appear to be Vermont youngsters.
But let's be fair-before there's a rush to judge this teacher, let's remember that he is innocent until proven guilty. We heard a parent ask, "what lessons are we teaching our kids here?" Well, how about the presumption of innocence? This should be among the lessons that can be taught to the children of Starksboro and Bristol when they wonder what happened to their music instructor. In America, a person is innocent until proven guilty.
Awaiting trail, Mr. Parini is still a part of our community under the rule of law. And that's why he needs to be treated, first, as an innocent man.
In America's legal system, the presumption of innocence must be foremost. It is the first legal right of the accused in any criminal trial. Without it, the law breaks down and we become a mob. The burden of proof is now with the FBI. Government prosecutors will have to present compelling evidence to convince the jury.
What that said, this is also not the time to point fingers at school administrators or other teachers for any perceived failures. Yes, parents in Starksboro of Bristol feel violated, but they need to learn more about the FBI's claims. That is why the court will decide this matter.
Since first viewing Alfred Hitchcock's 1957 film "The Wrong Man"-based on a true episode of an innocent man charged for a crime he did not commit-I have found myself being thankful for ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat, the legal idea that you and me are considered innocent until proven guilty.
How this case unfolds will be painful for everyone. If convicted, Mr. Parini could face up to 25 years in prison. If found innocent, he would likely have to endure the side glances and gossip of community members for years to come.
It's worth pausing and extracting what wisdom there is in an ancient and often overlooked Jewish poem, Psalm 109. This psalm has been read for centuries by both the guilty and the innocent. In it can be heard the anguish of victims and the heartbreak of the accused.