Teacher found not guilty

Published 1:50 am Friday, August 31, 2018

Alleged victim’s testimony not enough for jury

A Covington County jury deliberated almost three hours before returning a not guilty verdict against an Opp woman accused of a school employee engaging in a sex act with a student under 19.

The alleged victim testified Wednesday that defendant Ashley Nelson Hall performed fellatio on him on two occasions in early 2015. He testified that Mrs. Hall’s husband, Josh Hall, caught them on the first occasion, and watched on the second.

Thursday morning, Assistant District Attorney Grace Jeter, who prosecuted the case for the state, called the young woman who was the alleged victim’s girlfriend during the time he said the incidents occurred. The girlfriend testified that she told Mrs. Hall that she knew what happened, but she would “let God deal with you.” She said Mrs. Hall cried and told her she was sorry.

When Ashley Hall took the stand in her own defense, she said that she recalled the young woman telling her that the two students had broken up.

“If they were crying, I was probably crying, too,” she said.

Another former student testified that he had texted Mrs. Hall a photograph of his penis at her request, and that she had once ridden around with him alone in his truck.




Mrs. Hall confirmed that she received the photograph, and said that it was unsolicited.

“I was blown away,” she said. “It handled it, and told him it was absolutely unacceptable.”

Asked by her attorney why she did not report the incident to school officials, she said that the student was troubled, and that he had been back and forth between his parents.

“I didn’t want to put him in an issue that might have gotten him suspended,” she said. “I thought I would just handle it myself. I told him, ‘Don’t ever do that again.’ That took care of the problem.”

Asked why she had been alone in a vehicle with the former student, Mrs. Hall said, “It was actually the night of the funeral of one of my students. A group of us were together.”

She said the group dwindled as students were dropped off, and she was the last one in the vehicle.

A third former student testified that Mrs. Hall regularly sent him text messages, some of which were about problems in her marriage. However, he said none of the texts were sexual in nature.

Defense attorney Riley Powell called Mrs. Hall and her husband, both of whom denied the allegations, to the stand.



Josh Hall testified that he found out about the claims against his wife when she was taken to the police station to answer questions. He testified that investigators never questioned him, even though the alleged victim said Hall was an eyewitness to both sexual encounters.

If the claims had been true, Josh Hall said, he and his wife would not still be married.

He said that he and his wife, along with other adults, began helping with the youth at their church, where Josh Hall also was minister of music, after a youth director left. Both the Halls and other adult leaders regularly had events for youth in their homes, he said.

On cross examination from Jeter, Josh Hall said confirmed that police had asked to speak with him when they took Mrs. Hall to the station. He testified that he “didn’t think it was the time and place,” as he was concerned about his wife’s being questioned and her subsequent arrest.

He said he had never seen any inappropriate emails between his wife and a student, and that they often provided transportation or help to not only the alleged victim, but to other members of the church youth group as well.

Ashley Hall testified that she often communicated by text with her students, both boys and girls, and said there was nothing unusual about her communication with the state’s witnesses in the case.

She testified that she was aware of rumors about her at school, but she did not know why the rumors circulated. She testified that she first knew there were allegations against her when the police came to her house and said they needed to ask her a few questions.

“They wouldn’t tell me what it was about,” she said. “The took me to the station and I had to be in a holding place. I had to wait for a while.

“Then it was time to ask questions,” she said. “I said, ‘Don’t I need an attorney.’ They arrested me right then.”



Hall, who cried during her attorney’s closing arguments and after the verdict, testified that the charges had harmed her emotionally, and taken her job, and the career that she loved.

Fighting back tears, she said, “And he said it, and I was arrested.”

“It was a lie,” she said.

Hall said she’s had “three years and four months” to think about her case, and she does not know why the alleged victim claimed the two had a sexual relationship.

In closing arguments Thursday afternoon, Jeter said the alleged victim did not want to be in court.

“Y’all remember,” she said. “That was not something that was easy for him to talk about. It was not easy for him to tell y’all those things, but he didn’t waver.

Jeter told the jury that the other witnesses were called to show that Mrs. Hall had a motive in what she did to the alleged victim.

“She had a sexual attraction to teenage boys,” she said.

“Ashley Hall as a teacher had a responsibility to her students, not just to tech them English,” she said. “Students spend more time with their teachers – more of their awake time – than they do at home. Ashley Hall did things to (the alleged victim) that a teacher should never do to a student.

“There is only one word to describe a teacher like Ashley Hall,” Jeter said. “She is guilty.”

In his closing arguments, Powell argued that the state’s witnesses were called to convince the jury that “she must have done that because these other things happened, too. That’s what happens when the prosecution has a glaring lack of evidence.

“Mrs. Jeter said they called (a former student) to prove motive,” Powell said. “He said nothing inappropriate ever happened. How does that prove that she somehow had a motive to do these acts against (the alleged victim)?

“What they are doing, ladies and gentlemen, is piling stuff up to make you dislike Ashley Hall.”

Powell argued that the entire case was based on “rumor and locker room talk.”

“There was no kind of evidence other than he said, she said,” Powell said.

In her rebuttal, Jeter said, “(The alleged victim’s) testimony is enough. You don’t have to have evidence or photographs or DNA.”

The jury, which began deliberating shortly after 3 p.m., returned a verdict just before 6.

“I’m proud of the jury for having the strength to follow the judge’s instructions and render a verdict in a high profile case, “ Powell said. “There was not enough evidence, and the jury found the strength in numbers to say there was not enough evidence.”



District Attorney Walt Merrell said Thursday night, “While I appreciate the jury’s hard work and I respect the decision they reached, I can’t say that I believe justice prevailed. I regret this outcome for the victim and for the people of Opp. “Even though this case didn’t turn out like we hoped it would, we are not deterred,” Merrell said. “We will keep fighting the good fight for the people of the county.”

Opp City Schools placed Hall on administrative leave at the time she was charged. Powell said Thursday night that his client’s teaching certificate is in good standing, and that she hopes to work in education again soon.