Hung Jury Ends In Appeal Case Mistrial for Dr. Elton Bouldin
Former Cullman High School Principal Elton Bouldin was back in the Cullman County Courthouse on Monday and Tuesday for an appeal proceeding on his October 13, 2016, conviction of third-degree trespassing.
His guilty verdict on trespassing charges stemmed from an incident where Bouldin was accused and charged with criminal trespassing as well as failure to report a school incident.
The jury trial for those two charges occurred from October 11th to October 13th of 2016 in the large 32nd Judicial Circuit courtroom with the Honorable Circuit Judge Martha Williams presiding.
At that time, a lengthy list of local educators received subpoenas for the trial. Cullman City Schools Superintendent Susan Patterson, former Superintendent Doreen Griffith, and Agriculture Instructor David Benefield were among those who took the stand to testify.
The Complainants also took the stand to testify against Bouldin. Bouldin was the last to go before the judge in his own defense in that case.
Ultimately, Judge Williams handed down her decision determining that Dr. Elton Lee Bouldin was GUILTY of TRESPASS in the 3rd Degree.
She further determined Dr. Bouldin to be NOT GUILTY of Failing To File Report.
Dr. Bouldin was awarded the following sentence on the Trespass 3rd Degree conviction:
• 10 Days at Hard Labor for use by Cullman County
• Pay a $200 fine + all court costs within 60 days
Judge Williams then SUSPENDED the sentence, ordering the following:
– Pay all fines, and court costs ordered
– Not be arrested or convicted of any offense under Federal, State or local laws
Bouldin had 14 days to appeal the decision, and the Appeal Bond was $500.00.
Bouldin DID appeal and thus, this second jury trial.
This 2nd trial was presided over by Judge Scott Vowell (formerly a Jefferson County Circuit Judge). This case required an out-of-county officiant since Williams was part of the 1st trial and the 32nd Circuit’s other Judge Gregory Nicholas recused himself from the case.
Bouldin once again faced third-degree trespassing charges in this 2nd go around.
Monday’s proceedings consisted of jury selection as well as testimony and cross examination of the principal accusers in the case – Justin and Julee Butts.
It was a necessary rehash of the facts of the original trial. The central question of that proceeding being: “What led Bouldin and Assistant Principal Mark Stephens into the Butts’ home with only the student Justin present.”
This home visit by the administrators was preceded by an altercation between young Butts, and another Cullman High School student during a field trip. There was a firearm involved as well as a threat of ‘popping a cap off’ made during the altercation.
Mrs. Butts testified she did not want either Bouldin or Stephens in the family’s home.
Cell phone records and a somewhat dramatic, secret audio recordings between Patterson, Bouldin, and Stephens was placed into evidence.
Resuming Tuesday at 9 am, the trial kicked into a higher gear.
Bouldin was the key witness Tuesday once again taking the stand in his own defense.
Current CHS Principal Kim Hall, Patterson, Stephens, and Griffith all were witnesses Tuesday.
Upon the conclusion of the intra-courtroom proceedings, Judge Vowell cited and reminded the jury of a state statute that exempts public servants from trespassing charges if they’re lawfully carrying out their responsibilities.
The crux of the Bouldin defense case is that he and Stephens went to the home of young Butts to “’help’ the student in ‘good faith.’
The prosecution framed the incident as a brazen student home trespass incident that should have been handled by law enforcement. Bouldin’s defense attorney Bill Lawson made the pitch to the jury that the former Principal was acting in good faith in handling a delicate situation among students:
“He was trying to follow the law, and he did.”
The attorney for the prosecution, John Bryant, summed up their position succinctly:
“When you take it upon yourself to do a ‘criminal’ investigation, then you take a lot of responsibility on your shoulders.”
On Tuesday, the defense also called David Wiggins of East Elementary and Mark Britton, the CHS head football coach, to the stand. The defense utilized their testimony about how they conduct student home visits.
Around 6 pm, the jury told the Judge Vowell their members were split in their decision-making process and that they could not reach a verdict. The Judge gave them a spirited admonishment to continue. The extended time frame apparently did not help them reach any level of clarity or uniformity of decision. Thus, a mistrial was called just before 8 pm.
Bouldin will almost certainly be granted a new trial by Judge Vowell with the goal of arriving at a more satisfactory conclusion of this appeal process. No date for a new trial is announced – yet.
Perhaps the most interesting and long-term instructive outcome of this appeal process is to learn that there is no specific school district policy in place regarding proper procedures for administrator home visits.
As result, as a matter of precedent from this case, every administrator, teacher, or school official that attempts to make a student home visit in the future is effectively doing so without a guarantee they will not end up in a legal/criminal quandary similar to Dr. Bouldin.