A former band teacher committed suicide the day before his plea hearing was to occur last week, according to the Jackson County Medical Examiner’s office.
James M. Owens, 29, who taught at William Chrisman High School and Bingham Middle School in Independence, had faced child enticement and molestation charges involving alleged actions with a 14-year-old student. A plea hearing had been scheduled for last Thursday, in advance of a trial set for this week.
Lee’s Summit police responded to a death investigation call at Owens’ Lee’s Summit home on Wednesday.
Reached by telephone Aug. 4, Owens’ attorney, Eric Vernon, declined to comment on his client’s death, but did mention Owens’ left behind a grieving wife and grieving parents.
Online court records indicate Owens faced a plea hearing July 31, days before an Aug. 4 trial was scheduled to begin.
Owens was charged in Jackson County Circuit Court in November of 2012 with one count of enticement of a child – a felony – and one count of child molestation, a Class A felony, after a former student’s parent found a “live” Facebook chat between Owens and the 14-year-old student that contained sexually explicit language.
According to a probable cause statement filed in the case, the student told a school counselor in August of 2012 that she had been involved in a physical relationship with Owens since March of that year. The girl also told investigators that some of the encounters involved kissing and touching on school property.
Investigators eventually found past Facebook chats between Owens and the student that contained sexually explicit and inappropriate messages from Owens and found more than 100 phone calls and about 1,520 text messages between the two.
Legal documents indicate investigators found other evidence of inappropriate contact on Owens’ cell phone and home computer, including photos of the student without a shirt or bra.