A female student of a former Howard County teacher told a jury yesterday that the "good-looking young" educator sent her sexually explicit photographs and text messages, and later exposed himself to her in his classroom and tried to make her touch his genitals.
Joseph Samuel Ellis, 25, who taught history and government at Glenelg High School, faces a maximum of 23 years in prison on charges of sex abuse of a minor, indecent exposure, telephone misuse and two counts of a fourth-degree sex offense.
Before the jury was chosen yesterday, Ellis pleaded guilty to one count of displaying obscene materials to a minor. The count stems from six photographs that Ellis sent to the girl on Dec. 17, 2006. Ellis will be sentenced on that charge after the trial is complete, according to Howard County Circuit Judge Richard S. Bernhardt.
The accuser - who was 17 at the time of the alleged offenses - said the two began communicating during her senior year, a year after he was her history teacher.
After "innocent flirting," the girl - now an 18-year-old college freshman - claims that Ellis gave her his cell phone number. They communicated through text messages, instant messaging and e-mails, she said. Ellis said he wanted to engage in sexual acts with her and her friend, she testified.
Ellis' lawyer, Gerald Richman, conceded that there was phone communication, but said in opening statements that "what happened in the classroom is definitely under dispute."
Ellis crossed the line, prosecutor Lisa Broten said in her opening arguments.
"He abused his position as a teacher," she said. "He violated the sacred position as a teacher."
Ellis was arrested Jan. 8, 2007. He was fired in April.