Molestation case against ‘urban monk’ moves to felony court

Kent County

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — An artist and self-described “urban monk” is facing time in prison after a judge sent accusations of sexual assault against a child on to felony court. 

James Treadwell made a name for himself because of his ArtPrize entries as well as his lifestyle as a so-called urban monk who eschewed worldly possessions and marriage. 

But now, he is known for the two charges of child sexual assault filed against him — one by a family in East Grand Rapids and another by a young girl who says she was fondled by him when she was a fourth or fifth grade student at Potter’s House School.

The girl appeared in the Wyoming District Court Wednesday where she said that during an art demonstration on Martin Luther King Day Jr. at the church now connected to the school, Treadwell touched her thigh and privates while the two of them were alone.

She said the thing that stopped the molestation was the school bell ringing.

She was cross-examined by defense attorneys Britt Cobb and Deanna Kelley who pulled at the details of her story, including things like whether there was a window and details about the art project.

The defense also presented what they hoped were inconsistencies between her testimony Wednesday and her previous statements. 

In 2017, she talked to the Children’s Advocacy Center and told them that nothing happened with Treadwell who they called “Mr. Jamie,” according to court testimony.

“My memory has came back over time, over thinking, I guess,” the girl said. 

Judge Steven Timmer described the testimony as “very poor” and said it will likely be a problem in a trial where a jury has to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt.

But he attributed that to the fact that the victim is now 14 recalling events from more than four or five years ago.

“She was 11 when this happened, so it explains a lot of her foggy, and the time frame difference. It explains a lot of her not being remembered,” Timmer said. 

The important thing for the judge was what she did remember clearly.

“She’s 100 percent sure the touching happened,” Timmer said.

In the Wyoming case, Treadwell is charged with second-degree criminal sexual conduct, which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.

The weakness of this case likely is not unexpected by the prosecution, who said early on it is this case in tandem with the East Grand Rapids case that made it strong enough to bring to trial.

Treadwell is scheduled to appear on June 22 for a hearing in the Kent County District Court.

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