Jurors announced they were having difficulty Friday in reaching a verdict in the trial of a former San Jose principal charged with failing to report suspected child sex abuse, prompting the judge to instruct them to keep trying on Monday.
The jury foreman told Judge Deborah Ryan they were split 8-4 after deliberating for about 51/2 hours.
It is against the law for the panel to divulge the nature of the split -- whether the majority supports a misdemeanor conviction or an acquittal of former O.B. Whaley Elementary school principal Lyn Vijayendran, 36.
But the foreman said all the jurors agreed that the principal had the best intentions. And another juror asked a question that included her feeling that the principal had gotten bad advice from the director of human resources and was misled by the teacher.
The impasse -- which is temporary at this point -- is not entirely unexpected. The case is only the second time in two decades that Santa Clara County prosecutors have charged a local educator with shirking their legal obligation to call authorities when they have a "reasonable suspicion" that a child has been abused.
The trial pitted two well-respected attorneys against each other -- prosecutor Alison Filo and defense attorney Eric Geffon. They dueled politely but intensely throughout the three-day proceeding, including during closing arguments Friday morning.
If Vijayendran is convicted, she could serve up to six months in jail, though it is more likely she'd be put on probation. She has been reassigned to the district office as coordinator of teacher support programs.
In a powerful closing argument that foreshadowed the split, Geffon urged jurors to "deliberate as a group, but decide as individuals."
From the first, Filo appeared aware of the potential for jurors to sympathize with Vijayendran.
She took pains not to demonize the former principal, whom she characterized as a "nice person who made a terrible, terrible judgment call." On Friday, she told jurors that a guilty verdict wouldn't mean they were saying the educator was a "terrible person who has done nothing good in her life," just that she "failed on this one occasion."
"As Americans, we don't like to make allegations we are not sure about," Filo said. "But that's what you have to do (when you're legally required to report suspected child abuse). You could be wrong, but you have to err on the side of caution -- to protect children."
But Geffon intimated that a guilty verdict would ruin Vijayendran's career. He also urged the jury not to make the grave mistake of punishing the former principal for what is now known about teacher Craig Chandler's conduct.
"The DA wants you to be angry at Chandler and take it out on Lyn," Geffon contended.
The strongest evidence the prosecution presented against Vijayendran was the set of notes she wrote recounting what the child told her when she and her mom came to the principal's office in October 2011 to report a disturbing incident. The mother learned of the incident when she came across a crusty white stain on the sleeve of the girl's navy blue jacket and asked her about it.
The child told Vijayendran that Chandler had summoned her to the classroom and blindfolded her with no one else there, made her lie down on the floor, touched her feet with something that felt like a tongue, inserted something gooey in her mouth and then wiggled her head around till she tasted a salty liquid.
"Anyone with common sense could see the child reported a sex act," Filo told the jury.
Instead of reporting her suspicions to police, Vijayendran called the head of human resources, who directed her to interview the teacher. But Vijayendran was the one who made the judgment call about not notifying the authorities, Filo contended.
Chandler told Vijayendran that he called the girl into the classroom to prepare a lesson on Helen Keller, which he had been using for years. He said the "instructional goal" was to deprive participating students of sight. He said he used a bath sponge on her foot and legs, and put a bottle containing salty water into her mouth. All the while, his classroom door was open, he told Vijayendran, though the child said the door was closed.
Vijayendran testified that she believed him because he appeared very forthright and at ease, even offering to meet with the girl's parents. She wound up concluding he had merely displayed poor judgment -- in keeping with a few other careless things he'd done -- and ordered him not to use the lesson plan again.
"She gave him a chance to talk her out of that which she had to do," Filo said. "If the child had identified anyone other than Lyn Vijayendran's colleague, she would have called (the authorities)."
Geffon offered the jury a completely different perspective.
He argued that just because the principal was concerned didn't mean she should have stopped everything and called police.
"In the world the DA is describing, when a kid shows up with a bruise, you just call police," Geffon said.
In her rebuttal, Filo countered by saying what the little girl told Vijayendran was "no bruise."
Follow Tracey Kaplan at 408-278-3482. Follow her at Twitter.com/tkaplanreport.