Trial begins for former director of defunct Iowa academy

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KEOKUK, Iowa (AP) — A mother testified this week at the trial of a former boarding school director that her son was kept in a small isolation room for long periods of time as punishment at a now-defunct school in southeast Iowa and was sexually assaulted by other students.

The trial of Benjamin Trane, who owned and operated Midwest Academy in Keokuk, began Tuesday at the South Lee County District Court. Trane has been accused of sexually and physically abusing several children under his care, the Hawk Eye reported . Trane has pleaded not guilty to sexual abuse, sexual exploitation and child endangerment charges.

The state prosecutor, Denise Timmins, called a mother who sent her child to the academy for nearly a year as her first witness on Wednesday. The woman, 41, testified that her son had been sexually assaulted by older, male students and spent an extensive amount of time in solitary confinement.

The mother testified that her son weighed 122 pounds (55 kilograms) when he first enrolled in the academy, but weighed 90 pounds (41 kilograms) when she removed him from the school a year later. She said her son is still recovering from the trauma he endured while at Midwest Academy.

Timmins told the jury that while Trane didn't directly abuse all the children, he set policies in which students were given prolonged detention in small isolation chambers, denied healthy food and forced to sleep on the floor. Timmins said the academy implemented a reward and punishment system.

"Food was a privilege at Midwest Academy," Timmins said regarding the children who were placed in isolation. "Sleeping on a mattress became a privilege at Midwest Academy. And even talking to parents became a privilege."

Timmins told the jury that Trane sexually assaulted a teenage female student by performing multiple sexual acts on her. Investigators have alleged that Trane had female students undress and discuss sex for his arousal.

Trane's attorney will begin presenting the defense's case Tuesday.

Trane faces a sentence of 17 years if convicted of all charges. Trane was released on a $50,000 cash-only bond shortly after his arrest in September.


Information from: The Hawk Eye,

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