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Child molester hasn't served single day of 43-year prison term

  • Story Highlights
  • Florida middle school art teacher convicted by jury of sexually abusing boy
  • Judge gives 43-year sentence, but then agrees to allow man to delay prison on bond
  • "I can't understand why he isn't behind bars," victim says
  • Legal experts say the bond, under such circumstances, is highly unusual
  • Next Article in Crime »
By Ashley Fantz
CNN
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(CNN) -- For nearly two years, the South Florida middle school art teacher forced the boy to have sex in a classroom supply closet.

Aaron Mohanlal, here in his sex offender registration photo, was allowed to stay out of prison on bond.

Sometimes, Aaron Mohanlal would call in sick to work, take the boy to his home for sex and drop the seventh-grader back off at school at the end of the day.

To keep the abuse secret, Mohanlal bought the 13-year-old a cell phone and created nicknames for their genitalia. When police arrested him, the teacher was caught on hidden video trying to destroy letters threatening the boy if he ever told.

Last summer, a Broward County jury convicted Mohanlal of 13 counts, including child abuse, molestation and lewd battery, and a judge sentenced him to 43 years.

But a year later, Mohanlal has yet to spend a day in prison.

"I can't understand why he isn't behind bars," said the victim, now 18. The network is not disclosing his name because it doesn't identify sexual assault victims.

"I want to move on with my life. I'm trying to graduate high school and forget about this," he said. "I try not to think about it, but it's hard, because all I can think about is, what if he's out there around other kids?"

Weeks after the trial, Broward Circuit Judge Marc Gold, who presided over the trial and sentenced Mohanlal, granted the teacher a rare bond that allows him to remain free while his case is tried on appeal, a process that could take years.

During the two months CNN has investigated this story, Mohanlal has been working a construction job in Broward County and spending time at a house in Sunrise, Florida, 15 miles from where the boy and his family live, according to the Broward County Sheriff's Office.

He resigned from his teaching job in 2005 after his arrest.

"The idea of that monster being that close to my family again is outrageous," said the boy's father, who is often so overwhelmed with rage and sadness that he drives to a park, leans against a tree and sobs.

"What did we go through a trial for?" he said.

A man who identified himself as Mohanlal hung up on a CNN reporter who called his home in Port St. Lucie, Florida, his address on record with the state's sex offender registry.

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Mohanlal's appellate attorney, Tom Odom, refused to comment on the case beyond saying, "Everyone has a right to a first appeal."

Gold gave Mohanlal the right to live, work, travel and attend church in South Florida, according to numerous interviews and documents CNN has obtained. The judge ordered Mohanlal to wear a GPS device, register as a sex offender and surrender his passport.

He stipulated that Mohanlal cannot contact the boy and his family but did not order him to stay away from children, according to a transcript of the July 2007 bond hearing. Read the entire bond hearing

Mohanlal was allowed to post the $610,000 bond using his relatives' properties as collateral, the transcript shows.

Post-conviction bonds are rarely given in criminal trials, but judges occasionally grant them if there was a procedural error during trial that would make a conviction reversal at the appellate level likely, legal experts say.

But there were no procedural mistakes during Mohanlal's trial, both prosecutor Anita White and defense attorney Steve Rossi said.

Under Florida statute, defendants without prior felonies are eligible for post-conviction bond unless they have committed first-degree murder or sexual battery. Mohanlal wasn't convicted of first-degree sexual battery. He was convicted of second- and third-degree felonies, and he had no prior felony record.

Gold refused to talk on record about why he granted the bond. He would only give this statement: "The simple truth is that I had to rule based on what was presented to me during that hearing. And I took everything into consideration and felt a bond was appropriate."

"For a judge to delay jail is highly unusual, but it's especially unusual when you have someone convicted of a serious crime like sexual molestation of a child," said CNN legal analyst and criminal attorney B.J. Bernstein. "One of the concerns is that you have someone who commits a sex offense who, by their employment, seeks to be around children. They have abused that trust between a student and teacher."

A dozen legal experts, including criminal attorneys based in Florida, said they agree with Bernstein. None could recall a single case of a violent offender receiving the same kind of treatment.

Information on how many offenders are out on post-conviction bonds in Florida is difficult to find. There is no entity in the state, including the Florida Department of Corrections, that keeps track.

Last year, the boy's family won $300,000 from the school district after a civil claim that the district failed to protect the student.

Other students in Mohanlal's class testified that their teacher handed them fliers, with the boy's picture and phone number, that falsely accused the teen of having sex with animals. Caught on surveillance camera at a grocery store copying the fliers, prosecutors say Mohanlal had become a disturbed lover scorned when the boy entered high school and began rejecting his advances.

And there was evidence that Mohanlal was grooming other children. One middle-schooler told police that Mohanlal rubbed his arms and back during class; another testified at trial that his teacher gave him his cell phone number, money and hair conditioner.

"This was one of the most disturbing cases I've ever worked on, and there's no doubt in my mind that Aaron Mohanlal is a dangerous person," said Miramar Police Sgt. Jeff Armiento.

The investigator learned that Mohanlal was released on bond when he randomly searched for him on the state's correctional Web site.

"I was astonished, flabbergasted," Armiento said. "I called the state attorney's office to see if it was some kind of mistake. I don't see what would stop him from doing this to other kids."

Mohanlal's GPS device is monitored 24 hours a day by the Broward County Sheriff's Office, meaning his location appears on a computer screen. Otherwise, there is no police agency watching him.

Kristina Gulick, who oversees the electronic monitoring system, said Mohanlal gives the agency weekly itineraries to help police follow his whereabouts.

But 70 days of itineraries from March to June that CNN obtained from the Broward Sheriff's Office are not detailed; for example, some say Mohanlal intends to leave his home at 6:30 a.m. and return at 9:30 p.m. but do not say where he will be or what his plans are.

"We are confident that he is doing what he's supposed to be doing," Gulick said. "We have had no reason to think otherwise."

Because Mohanlal was required to register as a sex offender, he must provide the Florida Department of Law Enforcement with his home address. That home is in Port St. Lucie, about two hours from Broward County. See Mohanlal's sex offender registration

The St. Lucie County Sheriff's Department is required to make four visits to the home each year and verify that Mohanlal is living there based on what he tells deputies, according to department spokesman Mark Weinberg.

"This guy has all the reason in the world to take off," said Tom Blomberg, dean of the College of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Florida State University. Blomberg conducted a 2006 study of sex offenders who are monitored by wearable GPS devices.

"He's looking at prison for the rest of his life," Blomberg said, "and child molesters are almost always victimized in prison. He has to know that.

"This is not effective monitoring. In fact, it's a little bit beyond imagination what's going on here," Blomberg said. "The [GPS] technology works; that's not the problem. Police can only do so much. The question is whether this guy should be out of prison.

"This seems like a system failure on down."

CNN's Ryan Engel contributed to this story.

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