A jury was Monday afternoon to hear testimony in the sex case against former Northview High School teacher Calvin Bell-Tharpe. The seven-man, five-woman panel was agreed upon by Assistant District Attorney Banks T. Smith and Shaun McGhee, Bell-Tharpe's attorney.
During the selection process, McGhee indicated the jury would hear evidence of inappropriate behavior, including text messages, on the part of his client. He questioned whether any member of the jury pool would jump to a conclusion of guilt based upon that behavior. None said they would.
Bell-Tharpe, 31, faces two felony charges School Employee Sex, a felony under an Alabama law passed in 2010 by lawmakers. It makes it illegal, in most cases, for a teacher to have relations with a student even if the student has reached 16, the age of legal consent.
Bell-Tharpe is accused of having sexual relations with a male student, an act police say occurred off-campus. Judicial filings show the alleged offenses occurred in late 2010 though Bell-Tharpe was not arrested until June, 2011. An initial internal investigation, according to school administrators, apparently failed to substantiate a violation of school policy or a criminal act took place.
A Dothan police investigator, testifying during a preliminary hearing following Bell-Tharpe's arrest, claims the teacher took the boy to an apartment belonging to a relative of the teacher. Officer Renya Johnson said the sex acts took place after the two dined together at the apartment and lasted for an undetermined amount of time--possibly as long as an hour.
Meanwhile, defense attorney Shaun McGhee claims his client denies the allegations against him.
Bell-Tharpe was an art teacher and tennis coach at Northview. He has since left the employ of the Dothan school system and is free on 175-thousand dollar bond.