No new trial in Athens assault


A Clarke County judge has refused to grant a new trial for a man who was convicted of trying to rape a 12-year-old girl in a middle school restroom.

Michael James Kirt, 34, is serving a prison sentence of life plus 80 years for assaulting the girl in March 2007 at Clarke Middle School on Baxter Street.

After a five-day trial in January 2008, a jury convicted Kirt on charges he sneaked into the school with a knife and duct tape, then cornered a sixth-grade girl in a restroom stall.

Prosecutors argued that Kirt planned to rape the girl, but she screamed and attracted the attention of school employees who caught Kirt as he ran away from the school.

Jurors convicted Kirt of aggravated assault with intent to rape, kidnapping, false imprisonment, possession of a weapon during the commission of a crime and other felonies.

Kirt asked for a new trial almost immediately, and Western Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Lawton Stephens issued his ruling Tuesday.

Among other things, Kirt argued that the kidnapping conviction should be overturned because the assault lasted only a few minutes, and he never tried to take the girl from the restroom.

"The shortened length of time had nothing to do with (Kirt's) motives or actions, but rather the reaction of the victim herself," Stephens said. "The terrified child screamed in response to (his) actions and his unexpected presence in the girl's restroom, alerting adults in the school to her plight."

A person does not have to move a victim very far to be guilty of kidnapping, the judge ruled.

"(Kirt) falsely imprisoned the victim when he blocked her from exiting the restroom stall," Stephens said. "(He) carried a knife and used it offensively against the victim, constituting aggravated assault.

"Finally, (Kirt) committed kidnapping when he placed the knife down on a trash can and pushed the young female victim back into the restroom stall. He then tried to tear the duct tape, which he would have used to bind or gag the victim had he been successful," Stephens wrote.

Kirt also argued that his attorney did not properly represent him during the trial.

For example, his lawyer should have tried to prevent the jury from considering sexually oriented photos that police found in Kirt's truck.

Since Kirt once asked a young girl to lift her shirt so he could photograph her and had a camera during the Clarke Middle School assault, the photographs from the truck showed Kirt's "lustful disposition and bent of mind to engage in the activity of photographing young girls in a sexual manner," Stephens said.

The judge noted that Kirt's trial attorney objected to the evidence but was overruled.

Stephens rejected five other examples Kirt gave of how the attorney allegedly provided ineffective counsel.

Kirt can appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Barring a new trial, he likely will pend the rest of his life behind bars because with the kidnapping conviction, he must serve a mandatory 30 years before he becomes eligible for parole; the clock doesn't begin ticking on the 80 years he got for the other convictions until he has completed the minimum kidnapping sentence.


Click here to read a copy of the judge's motion in the case.



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