Bellport High rape case closings: Teacher's defense tries to blame girl

Jonathan Elsalam, 28, prepares to enter court at Jonathan Elsalam, 28, prepares to enter court at Suffolk County Court in Riverhead on Feb. 10, 2014, when the trial opened up against Elsalam, who's charged with having sexual relations with a 16-year-old girl while he was a teacher at Bellport High School. Photo Credit: James Carbone

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There's no proof that a Bellport High School teacher had sex with an underage student, his defense attorney argued Thursday to a jury.

But the prosecutor in the case of Jonathan Elsalam, 28, of Ridge, vehemently disagreed, saying the evidence shows the girl was telling the truth about her monthslong relationship with her teacher.

Both attorneys gave closing arguments Thursday before Suffolk County Court Judge Barbara Kahn, where Elsalam has been on trial charged with two counts of third-degree rape, four counts of third-degree criminal sexual act and endangering the welfare of a child.

The jury will begin deliberating Monday. Newsday is not naming the girl because authorities say she is the victim of a sex crime.

Defense attorney David Besso of Bay Shore attacked both the evidence and the girl, now 18. He acknowledged his client had an improper relationship with the girl, but said she aggressively pursued it, too.

"Should Jonathan Elsalam have let this happened? Absolutely not," Besso said.

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Most of the charges relate to two sexual encounters, one in December 2011 and the other in May 2012. Besso said the girl's testimony about both incidents was vague and unreliable.

"She really was guessing, is what it comes down to," Besso said. "And she says her memory isn't too great."

Further, he said the girl has "a reckless disregard for the truth" and made the accusations to bolster her family's $10 million lawsuit against the South Country School District.

Assistant District Attorney Kathleen Kearon said the idea that the girl was in charge of the relationship is absurd.

"He wants you to believe she's the aggressor," Kearon said. "Who cares? She's 16. He's the teacher."

She urged jurors to stick to the letter of the law. "In the eyes of the law, [the girl] is incapable of consenting to sexual intercourse, even if she did actually consent," she said.

As Kearon slapped phone records onto the rail of the jury box, she said, "There were 19,000 texts between that man, the teacher, and his student. That is beyond offensive."

Kearon said there is plenty of detail to verify the two sexual encounters in December and May took place, including the girl's diary entries and her explicit testimony about the first encounter.

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Kearon replayed for the jury parts of a conversation the girl's older sister recorded with Elsalam after the relationship ended, in which the sister accused him of criminal behavior with the girl. "I get every ounce of it," he conceded on the tape.

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