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Ex-Miramonte teacher Mark Berndt denied bail reduction

Ex-Miramonte Elementary School teacher Mark Berndt is shown in court on Wednesday, March 28, 2012.
March 28, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
A former South Los Angeles-area teacher accused of gagging students and feeding them semen-laced cookies was denied bail reduction at a court hearing on Wednesday.

Mark Berndt, 61, was being held in lieu of $23 million bail - a million for each count of committing a lewd act on a child. The charges involve 23 children who were 7 to 10 years old.

Berndt's attorney, Victor Acevedo, asked a judge today to drop his client's bail to $1 million, calling $23 million excessive.

"That's the functional equivalent of no bail to probably anyone in the state of California charged with any crime," said Acevedo. "I would request the court to consider reducing the bail to $1 million in light of the fact that my client does not have a criminal record."

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Marcelita Haynes was not convinced, citing safety concerns for Berndt's alleged victims.

"There's evidence of emotional trauma in that some of the children had experience unspecified nightmares since the allegations have come to public attention," the judge said.

Haynes also made it clear that even if Berndt makes bail somehow, he will be facing a lot of restrictions including home confinement and possibly GPS monitoring.

The former Miramonte Elementary School teacher was arrested in late January after a year-long investigation. A drugstore photo technician discovered disturbing images of blindfolded children and reported it to police.

Authorities maintain the pictures were of Berndt's students and that they were taken inside his classroom. Investigators said some of the photos show kids eating cookies covered with Berndt's semen. Authorities said there are also photos of children with a large live Madagascar-type cockroach on their faces and mouths.

Berndt was removed from the classroom in January 2011 when the investigation began. He pleaded not guilty to felony molestation on Feb. 21.

Acevedo said his client has been threatened in jail and keeping his bail so high could put him at risk.

"I am still concerned for his safety," said Acevedo. "He has been now moved to a different location within the county jail system, but even there, he has been a subject of harassment by fellow inmates."

The case will now move to the criminal courts building for a preliminary hearing May 1, when a date will be set for a hearing to determine if there is enough evidence for him to stand trial.


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