PITTSFIELD -- Former school counselor Scott M. Muir told the prosecution that he ignored a specific district edict not to allow young girls to sit on his lap, "because I felt I was comforting the students."
This was the last comment Muir made on the stand on Monday afternoon. Although prosecutor Joseph Yorlono completed his cross-examination of Muir, defense attorney William S. Rota suggested he might have a few more questions of Muir on Tuesday before the defense rests.
Muir, 39, of Stockbridge, faces 20 charges in connection with the alleged sexual assault of five girls between 8 and 10 years old between 2003-06 at both the Stockbridge Plain and later Muddy Brook Elementary schools. He is presently out on $10,000 bail.
At the time, Muir was the school support center coordinator at the Stockbridge Plain School. His duties, as he testified, were to work with students to resolve various behavior issues.
After an initial investigation resulted in no charges being brought against Muir in 2004, he was ordered by district officials to limit his contact with students to perfunctory levels.
But the pattern apparently continued after the order was given, and another investigation was launched in 2012.
After five days of testimony, the case is expected to go to the jury on Tuesday morning. Superior Court Judge Daniel Ford polled Rota and Yorlono as to how much time each would need in summing up. They agreed on 40 minutes each.
Muir spoke firmly throughout his testimony and only appeared mildly rattled a handful of times.
He acknowledged that he gave young girls piggyback rides and that they sat on his lap at various times.
"Generally, I was just trying to comfort them," he testified of his reason for sitting them on his lap. "They might be crying, they might be upset."
He told Rota that while he may have hugged students, "it was more of a side hug."
Muir did not dispute there were instances when he would have two girls in his lap at once, usually facing away from him.
But when asked by Rota if he had ever sexually assaulted or abused any of the victims, Muir firmly denied those allegations.
On cross-examination, Yorlono asked Muir what the benefit was of having young girls sitting on his lap.
Muir's reply was that it put him on the same level with the girls when they discussed whatever situation in which they were involved.
Yorlono asked Muir if he knew of any other schools or school districts where a counselor might have a girl on his lap during a counseling session.
"No," Muir said.
"Sir, did you think having young girls sit on your lap was appropriate?" Yorlono asked.
"At the time, I did, yes," Muir said. "I'm just the kind of person who, if I see someone upset, I try to comfort them."
And at the end of his testimony, Muir agreed that, even after he was warned not to allow young girls to sit on his lap by district officials, he continued to do so.
Prior to that testimony, a number of school officials took the stand to praise Muir's work ethic and thoroughness.
"He had his own little following," said Jean Parsons, a paraprofessional in the district at the time. "They wanted to talk to him [in the playground] and tell him about their weekends."
"Teachers respected him," said former district school psychologist Michael Vecchia. "He had an impeccable record. He never seemed to have any difficulty relating to the students."
"In the course of your career," Yorlono asked. "Did you ever put a child on your lap?"
"No," Vecchia said.
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