|Daniel M. Acker Jr.|
A retired teacher from Alabaster, Alabama, pleaded guilty to eight counts of child sexual abuse yesterday in Shelby County Circuit Court.
Daniel M. Acker Jr. received prison sentences that will be served concurrently over 17 years. Acker was arrested in January after admitting that he had molested more than 20 girls over his 25-year teaching career. Allegations of sexual abuse first were brought against Acker in 1992, but a grand jury did not indict him and the Shelby County Board of Education refused to terminate him.
A number of citizens' groups, especially from churches, came to Acker's defense on the '92 allegations, and that apparently kept him from being held accountable. It also seemed to help that Acker's father, Daniel M. Acker Sr., is a long-time member of the Shelby County Commission.
How do Shelby County officials feel about a process that allowed a serial child molester to go free for 20 years? We might not find out now because Acker's guilty plea prevented a criminal trial that probably would have revealed some of the conservative county's ugliest secrets.
One of Acker's victims, however, did speak out yesterday. Her name is Kristin Lopez Hurt. The Acker criminal case probably would have never developed had Ms. Hurt not had the courage to come forward. From al.com:
Among the victims in the courtroom was Kristin Lopez Hurt, who accused Acker of touching her inappropriately in 1991, when she was 11. Acker was not only her teacher but also a neighbor. She said he molested her several times in the classroom as well as in her home. . . .
Hurt expressed relief. "I finally feel vindicated, not just for myself but for all of the girls," Hurt said after the Thursday hearing. "They're younger, and this is harder on them."
In other words, those are the girls who became victims because of Shelby County's inaction back in 1992. We hope their voices will someday be heard.
One of them already is speaking out. Paige Joyner, 13, spoke to ABC 33/40:
Paige Joyner was nine years old when she joined Daniel Acker's fourth grade class. He was a family friend and respected teacher, but it didn't take long for Paige to realize something just wasn't right.
"He looked at me and said, Paige are you going to tell anyone and I just kind of shrugged," she said. "I was nervous everyday--scared that something was going to happen but I didn't know exactly what."
Three years later, her little sister is the same age she was during the assault. She was outside when the school bus pulled up--Daniel Acker was driving.
"He was a substitute so you never knew what bus he would be driving," Paige Joyner said. "One day I saw her riding the bus and he was on the bus. The next day I went to my friend Brooklyn's house and I told her because I was worried that my sister would have the same thing happen too."
Shane Joyner, Paige's father, also spoke with ABC 33/40:
"All that trust in the school system taking care of my child has been let down big time," Shane Joyner, Paige's father said.
It was a difficult story for her Dad to hear. But he says, Thursday at the sentencing--justice was served.
"I just wish they had listened to that other girl 20 years ago and removed him from school. They let a lot of other girls get harmed," he said.
"I made sure I stared him down and let him know I wasn't his victim and I wasn't scared of him," Paige told us.
"There is nothing that will erase what has happened and nothing will change the fact that he has destroyed his life," Shane Joyner said.
"I just want people to know that if there is anyone out there it's still not too late," Paige said.
A guilty plea was the expected outcome in the Acker criminal case. The last thing Shelby County's right wingers wanted was testimony that would have shown how the supposedly "pro family" county allowed a serial molester to conduct his nasty deeds for 20-plus years.
Is it possible that justice is not complete in the Acker case? Is it possible that Ms. Hurt, Ms. Joyner, and other victims might receive compensation via civil cases against individuals in the power structure that allowed Acker to operate? Is it possible that victims will be able to find an attorney who has the guts to bring such lawsuits?
We hope the answer to those questions is yes.
For now, we have these words from Kristin Lopez Hurt, in an interview with the Shelby County Reporter:
Hurt said she still has not fully recovered from the incident, and said it has been affecting her life for the past two decades.
“I hope I will be more relaxed now,” Hurt said, noting she now has a 6-year-old daughter and a 13-year-old stepson. “I was scared to have a girl because of everything I went through.
“Trust your parents. Talk to them,” Hurt said, when asked what advice she would give to young girls today. “They are your world, and they will listen.”