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Ex-teacher accused of sexual assault won’t take plea deal until seeing ‘most damaging evidence’

NJ.com logo NJ.com 11/30/2020 Katie Kausch, nj.com
a man standing in front of a group of people posing for the camera: Carlos Franco-Leon is lead into Superior Court in Morris County on March 12. He is accused of having a sexual relationship with two high school students. © Katie Kausch | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com/nj.com/TNS Carlos Franco-Leon is lead into Superior Court in Morris County on March 12. He is accused of having a sexual relationship with two high school students.

A former teacher accused of having sexual relationships with two students has still not seen “the most damaging evidence” against him after a virtual grand jury indicted him on 28 counts.

Carlos Franco-Leon, 42, of Rockaway, faces 14 counts of sexual assault, 10 counts of aggravated sexual assault, and four counts of endangering the welfare of a child stemming from alleged sexual relationships with two teenage students while he was a teacher and volleyball coach at Morris Catholic High School in Denville.

He has been able to review some evidence against him while in the Morris County Correctional Facility, but a large cache of it is viewable only at the prosecutor’s office because it has sexual content of underage victims, his lawyer, John Graves said at a virtual hearing on Monday.

Graves reviewed portions of the evidence in hours-long viewing sessions, which featured media from cell phones belonging to both victims and Franco-Leon.

“I think it can fairly be characterized as some of the most damaging evidence and I think there’s a lot of value and it’s important for my client to review it,” Graves said.

Restrictions meant to stem the coronavirus have made it difficult to transport Franco-Leon. He is not able to enter the prosecutor’s office where the evidence is being held, and in-person proceedings at courthouses are severely limited, Judge Stephen Taylor said.

Complicating matters is a 10-year plea deal set to expire in two weeks. Franco-Leon has declined to make a decision on the plea before viewing the evidence, Graves said.

Taylor said his office would attempt to arrange an in-person review of a “representative sample” of the materials following a COVID-19 test for Franco-Leon. If that is not possible, he encouraged Graves to request copies of the evidence to be released under a protective order, so they can be reviewed at the jailhouse.

The plea offer can be extended to allow Franco-Leon time to access evidence, Assistant Prosecutor Reema Kareer said.

“The state’s not looking to penalize any defendant because of this pandemic,” she said during the hearing. Kareer did not know what a more severe plea deal officer would look like, but said the victims both agreed with the current offer.

In addition to ten years in jail, Franco-Leon would also be required to register as a sex offender as part of the current plea deal. He also faces immigration consequences, his lawyer said.

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Katie Kausch may be reached at kkausch@njadvancemedia.com. Tell us your coronavirus story or send a tip here.

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