Sunday, March 29, 2009

Second Student Tells of Seeing Accuser’s Arm without Burn

The following testimony took place between 3:54 P.M. and 4:27 P.M. on 3/26/09—in addition to testimony, this article also relies upon details from the witness’ sworn affidavit.

A possible explanation emerged during the sixteenth day of the John Freshwater hearing as to why Zachary Dennis—who has been used against his teacher in the legal and media battle—was never asked, while he was under oath, to identify the photographs that allegedly show burn marks on his arm.

The student on the witness stand, Ben Nielson, said that upon seeing the photograph published in the newspaper, that was purported to be of his fellow student Dennis’ arm, he said, “That’s not Zach’s arm.”

Photos were included in the report done by H.R. On Call, Inc that have been alleged to be of Dennis’ arm and caused by a Tesla coil. “The pictures below were provided by the parents,” the report stated.

(In an interesting move, the attorney for the Mount Vernon City Schools Board of Education, David Millstone, chose to not ask Dennis to look at the photos to verify if they were of his arm. Millstone also did not ask Dennis to verify the statement in the HROC report that said the burn marks remained on his arm for “three to four weeks.” The cross examination of Dennis was postponed—these questions may come up when he takes to the witness stand again.)

Nielson said that Freshwater used the Tesla coil during a lesson on the elements and to light up gases. He also said that the students got a chance to be touched by the static electricity device. Before the teacher touched volunteers with it, he first used it on himself by running it across his arm and then grabbing the tip of the device with his hand for five seconds, Nielson said. The student described Freshwater as smiling and laughing while holding onto the Tesla coil.

Nielson was the first volunteer. Freshwater ran the Tesla coil across the underside of his forearm—it did not hurt or sting, Nielson said. When he got back to his seat, he noticed that there was a pinkish reddish mark on his arm. He described it as looking a lot like a cross, but at the intersection, it was a little slanted so it could have been an “X.” Freshwater did not say that he was going to make a cross, Nielson said.

After class, Nielson saw Dennis—who is in a different period of Freshwater’s science class—in the hallway. Nielson said that he showed Dennis his arm and Dennis said that he had the Tesla coil applied to his arm the day before. Dennis told him that it did not really hurt and that the only time he really felt anything was when he was sweating in his hockey pads, Nielson said.

In the sworn affidavit by Nielson, he described comparing arms with Dennis. “When we compared our arms I could barely see any mark on his arm,” Nielson stated. “The mark on Zach’s arm was hardly visible. The mark on my arm was ten (10) times redder and much bigger than the mark on Zach’s arm.”

Nielson said that neither his arm nor Dennis’ arm had any raised or blistered skin. Within a day, Nielson said that the mark on his arm was gone.

The report by HROC also accused Freshwater of teaching creationism. Nielson said that Freshwater never pushed creationism or intelligent design in the classroom.

Another claim made by the HROC report concerned praying during a Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) meeting. “Mr. Freshwater participated and possibly lead a prayer during an FCA meeting that concerned a guest speaker’s health,” the report stated. “There is no conclusion as to whether such prayer was a ‘healing’ prayer.”

Nielson said that he was there during the alleged incident. The report identifies the “guest speaker” as being Pastor Zirkle—who happens to be Nielson’s youth pastor from Lakeholm Church of the Nazarene. Nielson stated in the sworn affidavit that he was the one who led that prayer:

“Zach Dennis and Dan Eddy were not at this meeting. About 18 students were there. Pastor Steve (Zirkle) is my youth pastor and he had just come from a doctor’s appointment and needed some kind of surgery. Students gathered around Pastor Steve to say a ‘popcorn’ prayer which is a prayer where anybody can pray. I lead the prayer for Pastor Steve and was excited to do so. I think Macy Malone maybe prayed. I do not remember 100% if Mr. Freshwater prayed then or at any other time. At most I am 50/50 whether Mr. Freshwater ever prayed. I know Mr. Freshwater did not make anybody pray at any meeting.”

Nielson said that if Freshwater had done anything that he thought was wrong, he would have reported it.

Nielson was one of the “five current or former students of Mr. Freshwater” that were interviewed by HROC. The investigators’ SOP was to not give interviewees a chance to look at the handwritten notes that were made of their statements or to make corrections to the notes. The investigators did not take a sworn statement from Nielson.

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