Gregor trial opens with graphic testimony
A 21-year-old woman took the stand on the first day of former teacher Gary Gregor’s child molestation trial Tuesday, telling jurors that as a 9-year-old girl in his fourth-grade class at a school in Española, she started wearing pants instead of skirts in hopes that her teacher would stop putting his hands inside her underwear.
“Maybe I’m being tempting,” the woman said she recalled thinking at the time. “Maybe a skirt is just too provocative for him.”
But, she said, “That didn’t stop him. He would still touch my legs and scoop me and play with me.”
The woman used the word “scoop” several times Tuesday to describe how, she said, Gregor would form two of his fingers into a “hook” he used to rub her vagina inside her clothes as she sat next to him at a special table reserved for class council members.
The woman — whose name is not being published to protect her identity — was the first witness in this week’s trial against Gregor, who taught in Santa Fe and Española schools between 2000 and 2008 and has been accused of molesting female students in both districts.
She is one of two students in the current case accusing Gregor of sexual assault during the 2007-08 school year at Fairview Elementary School. Three other criminal cases — involving three different accusers, including one from Santa Fe and two others from Española — are pending against the former teacher.
Española Public Schools so far has racked up $9 million in settlements in lawsuits filed by young women accusing him of sexual abuse when they were children.
One of the allegations in the civil cases is that school officials allowed Gregor to continue working as a teacher even after he had been accused of inappropriate behavior with students.
Gregor, now 62, had faced allegations of sexual misconduct in Utah and Montana before he came to New Mexico and began teaching in Santa Fe in 2000, according to the lawsuits. When concerns were raised about him at what was then Agua Fría Elementary School in 2004, he resigned without a formal hearing, and Santa Fe school officials agreed to give him a neutral recommendation, allowing him to be hired by the Española district.
Parents of one girl in Gregor’s class at Fairview Elementary reported their concerns to Española police in 2009, but it wasn’t until 2017 that the state Attorney General’s Office filed criminal charges against him. By that time, several civil suits had been filed against him by accusers who said law enforcement ignored their complaints and one of them — the woman who testified Tuesday — had appeared on a national television show to talk about the alleged abuse.
The woman on Tuesday described her own frustration with trying to get officials to hold Gregor accountable, saying she felt “crushed” after telling Fairview Elementary’s principal at the time, Ruby Montoya, that Gregor had been “touching her”; Montoya treated her if she were lying, the woman told jurors.
“I remember her saying he wouldn’t do something like that,” the woman said, “that he was her friend.”
Montoya did visit Gregor’s classroom after the witness and several classmates reported the teacher was touching them, the woman testified, but only to warn the class “to not be making things up.”
“I felt like I couldn’t tell adults after that,” she said. “I felt like he was right; no one would believe me. I didn’t know how to make it stop, or that I could.”
Under questioning from Deputy Attorney General Clara Moran, the woman told jurors about methods Gregor had used to woo girls in the class: allowing them to grade other students’ papers, showering them with gifts, and giving them special privileges and treats.
For example, she said, Gregor bought her about 10 teddy bears, a cellphone, a white shirt with purple flowers with her name embroidered on it, a notebook in her favorite color and art supply kits.
Gregor’s defense attorney, Shelby R. Bradley, told jurors in his opening statement they were going to hear about two types of behavior in the case: legal behavior — some of which, he said, might make them wince or shake their heads, raising questions about boundaries, but was nonetheless legal — and illegal behavior.
“The state is going to show a lot of evidence of legal conduct in an attempt to tie that to illegal conduct,” Bradley said. “You are going to have to distinguish between the two.”
During his cross-examination of the witness, Bradley asked the woman to explain why, when she initially reported Gregor to Montoya, talked to a safe-house interviewer about his behavior and testified at a state Public Education Department hearing about the teacher, she said only that he had touched her leg and not that he also had touched her genitals.
She didn’t mention that behavior until years later, Shelby said, when a paralegal approached her about filing a civil suit.
“I didn’t have the guts to say, ‘Yes, he touched my vagina,’ ” the woman answered. “I see where you are coming from … but I feel like anyone my age would have been embarrassed to say they were touched in their vagina.”
What had changed, Bradley wanted to know, to transform the woman from a girl too shy to name her own body parts into a person able to testify so specifically now?
“I grew up,” the woman said. “I grew up, and I learned to say ‘vagina’ in public, just as I am today.”
Bradley also questioned the woman about the amount of money she’d gotten to settle her civil suit against the Española district and Gregor — $4.3 million — and whether Gregor had ever physically punished her. The woman said he had not.
Gregor’s trial is expected to continue through the rest of this week and into next week.