HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — The jury trial of Dean Lakey, a Henrico gym teacher accused of sexually assaulting a student in 2017, began Tuesday in Henrico Circuit Court.

Lakey was arrested in September 2021, after one of his former students disclosed that he had sexually assaulted her in 2017. Lakey was originally charged with one count of rape, two counts of forcible sodomy and three counts of indecent liberties with a minor as a custodian. The prosecution has now reduced those charges to object sexual penetration and indecent liberties by a custodian.

The trial began in earnest at 11:15 am, after the last batch of 10 alternate jurors was dismissed, and the 12-member panel formally sworn in.

In opening statements, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Kelly Cotting characterized the victim as a “shy,” “bookish” and “socially awkward” girl who had moved from Baltimore to Short Pump and found difficulties making friends, contrasting her with Lakey who, the prosecution said, “was essentially king of Short Pump Middle School,” and was certain his position of authority would dissuade the victim from coming forward.

Dean Lakey (Mugshot Courtesy Currituck County Sheriff’s Office)

The defense, by contrast, focused on supposed inconsistencies in the victim’s story, which had been related separately to a friend and her then-boyfriend in 2020, as well as to a forensic interviewer in 2021. According to the defense, the bathroom the victim claimed to have been assaulted in would have been gated off at the time of the assault and Lakey would likely have been at Deep Run High School coaching the girl’s soccer team, not in Short Pump Middle School, where the assault was alleged to have taken place.

“There is no DNA, there is no fingerprint, there is no corroborating witness,” Lakey’s attorney said. He added that Lakey categorically denied that the alleged assault ever happened.

The Victim’s Testimony

The first witness called by the prosecution was the victim herself, who became visibly distressed during her testimony when asked to recount the events of March 2017, when the assault allegedly occurred.

According to her, she was then a member of the Technology Students Association, which took part in competitions throughout the Spring semester. To prepare, the victim, along with other students, would stay after school, leaving, at times, as late as 7 pm.

One night, she said, she left through the front of the building, but decided to stop to use the restrooms by the school gym before walking home. Once in the stall, she said she heard the door open, but thought nothing of it, assuming it was another student staying after.

When she emerged from the bathroom, she said, she saw “Mr. Lakey standing in front of the door.”

After that, the victim’s answers came out in a rush, sometimes barely audible to the court. She testified that Lakey blocked her exit, grabbing her arm and then pressing her face-first into the bathroom sink. Then, she said Lakey pulled down the spandex shorts she was wearing under a dress and assaulted her. She was uncertain how he did so, which is why his charges were reduced.

“I remember feeling like I wasn’t there,” she said. “Like I was watching it happening.”

The victim went on to say that she didn’t tell anyone at the time, but soon began skipping school. “I would show up, stay for an hour, then go to the nurse,” she said.

Her mother corroborated that testimony, saying the victim’s attendance issues began shortly after spring break in 2017. “Almost once a week or sometimes twice a week” the victim would claim a stomach illness or simply refuse to go to school without explanation, her mother said.

The defense’s cross-examination of the witness focused on an inconsistency in her testimony. The victim initially told her boyfriend that marks she had on her inner thighs had been left by Lakey when he bit her, but she later told the forensic interviewer that Lakey had merely dug into her thighs with his nails, leaving no permanent marks.

Her ex-boyfriend later testified that she initially told him Lakey had made the marks, but later admitted they were self-inflicted cuts, made after the alleged assault.

Shortly thereafter, the defense’s cross-examination could not proceed because the victim began to suffer from an apparent panic attack. She began to sob uncontrollably, and had to be led from the courtroom by a bailiff.

The Chain of Disclosure

As there were no witnesses to corroborate the victim’s accusation directly, much of the first day’s testimony focused on the three disclosures she made, with the defense attempting to impeach her reliability while the prosecution sought to demonstrate the consistency of her central accusation.

The victim was allegedly assaulted in March 2017, but a friend who frequently walked home with her in Middle School and remained close to her throughout the following years testified that the victim first disclosed that she had been raped in August 2020, but would not say who had done it.

Then, in April 2021, the victim and her then-boyfriend had a fight. The victim had previously disclosed that she had been raped by Dean Lakey, but had asked the boyfriend not to tell anyone. When the mother overheard the fight, the boyfriend told her everything the victim had said.

The boyfriend’s mother was a mandatory reporter, and as a result, relayed the allegations to law enforcement. Finally, the victim spoke with a “forensic interviewer” in Loudoun County, where the victim was then attending school, and described the incident in detail.

That testimony, in the forensic interviewer’s own words, was the result of a “neutral fact-finding interview” with “non-leading” questions. The prosecution then played three portions of a recording of the interview, which showed the victim describing the assault in a way consistent with her testimony earlier in the trial, but with some details that conflicted with the third-hand account given by her then-boyfriend and his mother.

The defense again focused on the absence of the alleged bite marks, which had been described in the mandatory report to law enforcement, but which the victim herself denied any knowledge of on the stand.

Limited Admission

At two points the Commonwealth’s Attorney and defense clashed over what evidence and witnesses would be admissible.

First, the commonwealth attempted to call the detective who lead the investigation, to which the defense objected. In the defense’s opening statement, Lakey’s lawyer said that he had taught and coached “thousands of kids” but that there was only “one accuser” out of all of them.

The commonwealth sought to have the detective testify as to the results of the tipline set up by Henrico Police in October 2021. The tipline, the commonwealth said, had turned up two additional accusations of sexual misconduct, but the accusers themselves had not made themselves available as witnesses.

The judge ruled that the detective could not herself testify to the results of the tipline, but that if the commonwealth convinced the accusers to appear, their testimony would be admitted.

Later, a former co-worker was called by the defense to speak to Lakey’s good character. She said that Lakey was “respected” and always followed school rules and guidelines in her 20 years of working with him.

During cross-examination, the Commonwealth’s Attorney brought up several documented violations of school rules that school records indicate Lakey was accused of and in some cases disciplined for. Although the defense objected, the judge ruled the commonwealth could ask the character witness whether she was aware of the allegations – without stipulating as to whether they were true or not.

According to the commonwealth, Lakey had twice been accused of misappropriating school funds, after which he was barred from handling money for school events. In a separate incident, Lakey was accused of calling a group of students “faggots” during a basketball game. Another group of 23 students accused Lakey of physical abuse during gym class. All of these incidents were alleged to have occurred, and were investigated by the school, during the colleague’s time at Short Pump Middle School.

She categorically denied that she was ever aware of any of the allegations.

Shortly thereafter, the court adjourned for the day. The trial will resume on Wednesday, June 1 at 10:00 am in the Henrico Circuit Court.