SANTA FE – After waiting over a decade, Nallely Hernandez finally got to see her fourth-grade teacher convicted for sexual crimes against her and a classmate.
A jury on Wednesday found former teacher Gary Gregor guilty of three counts of criminal sexual penetration of a minor, four counts of criminal sexual contact of a minor and five counts of kidnapping.
The jury deliberated for about four hours after a trial that lasted more than week. Gregor faces 168 years in prison.
Gregor, 62, was accused of molesting girls while he was teaching at Fairview Elementary School in Española during the 2007-08 school year. One of his victims was 21-year-old Hernandez.
“I’m pretty speechless right now, but I’m thankful to God that justice has been served,” Hernandez said after the verdict was read. “I waited for what felt like forever, but it’s worth it now.”
Hernandez, who has talked publicly about the case before, testified last week that Gregor would touch her private area while he was sitting next to her at a student council table at the front of the class.
She also said he kept her behind in class, turned off the lights and closed the blinds, and tried to kiss her in a classroom closet. The abuse occurred daily, she said.
In court Wednesday, defense attorney Shelby Bradley said in his closing argument that the state had not produced any physical evidence against Gregor and said the women who testified against him had a financial incentive to say Gregor touched them sexually in class.
The Española school district has already paid $9.2 million to settle two lawsuits involving Gregor. Hernandez already collected a $4 million settlement for her lawsuit and the other alleged victim in this case, who is currently in custody in Mississippi for a felony conviction, has pending litigation.
“The only evidence of something happening is from those young women, and they have financial bias,” Bradley said.
Deputy Attorney General Clara Moran said in closing arguments that there were “red flags” for Gregor’s grooming and abuse. Other school employees testified that Gregor would sit with some of his female students in the cafeteria with his hands under the table and would also hold their hands on the playground.
Gregor, who showed no emotion when the guilty verdicts were read, still faces three more trials for similar crimes he allegedly committed against female students in Santa Fe and additional students Española. The next one is slated for January.
Although civil lawsuits over Gregor’s behavior have resulted in millions in payouts, he was never charged criminally until Attorney General Hector Balderas did so last year amid national media attention on so-called “passing the trash” of sex offender teachers from school district to school district without accountability.
Gregor first faced accusations while teaching at Santa Fe Public Schools, after docents at the International Folk Art Museum observed questionable behavior by Gregor with girls during a field trip. But the Santa Fe district let him go with a “neutral” recommendation and he was then hired in Española.
He had also faced accusations in Utah and Montana before coming to New Mexico.
The testimony against Gregor in his Santa Fe trial was sometimes graphic.
Hernandez said Gregor started by putting his hand on her knee, then he started touching and rubbing her thighs. He then started putting his hand inside her skirt and inside her underwear, and would rub her for minutes at a time.
Hernandez said she started wearing pants with a belt. But that didn’t stop him, she said, and he would still force his hand into her underwear. These kinds of assaults would happen on a daily basis, she said.
Hernandez also testified that after she and other girls went to Fairview principal Ruby Montoya to report Gregor’s behavior, the principal came to the class and told students to stop spreading false information. The other victim in this case also testified she went to Montoya about Gregor touching her and nothing happened as a result. No one from the school ever went to police.
Gregor’s wife, Judith Gregor, a 32-year-old Philippines native, was the only defense witness. She testified she became pen pals with Gregor and married him in the Philippines in January 2006. She spent time in his classroom and she said she’d never seen her husband touch anyone inappropriately, but did say that girls in his class would hold his hand. “The girls were the ones who grabbed his hand first, and I didn’t like that,” Judith Gregor said. “… As a wife, you would feel jealous a little bit.”