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Should other 'wayward boys' be allowed to testify at trial of ex-youth symphony leader?

Third District Judge Keith Kelly talks to Brent E. Taylor, former director of the Utah Valley Youth Symphony, and his attorney, Cara Tangaro, during a hearing in Salt Lake City on Jan. 7, 2019. Taylor, who is accused of sexually abusing three boys about 30 years ago, is set to go on trial in two cases in October.

Third District Judge Keith Kelly talks to Brent E. Taylor, former director of the Utah Valley Youth Symphony, and his attorney, Cara Tangaro, during a hearing in Salt Lake City on Jan. 7, 2019. Taylor, who is accused of sexually abusing three boys about 30 years ago, is set to go on trial in two cases in October. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)



AMERICAN FORK — A Utah judge said Wednesday he's concerned about the accuracy of old memories as prosecutors push to have a jury weigh prior evidence of sexual misconduct against a longtime youth symphony leader.

Brent E. Taylor, the former director of the Utah Valley Youth Symphony, is accused of abusing a 15-year-old musician in Utah County several years ago while at the helm of the prestigious organization that has toured within the United States and abroad.

It's the second criminal case Taylor is facing after a 2018 Deseret News report detailed allegations of misconduct from several men who included former neighbors, musicians and employees of the symphony. Many said they felt compelled to come forward as the #MeToo movement spurred a national reckoning on power and sexual misconduct.

The roughly two to four decades that have passed since the alleged crimes were top of mind Wednesday for 4th District Judge Roger Griffin.

"I wonder if I shouldn't be concerned about how much of it really is their memory at this point, versus how much of it has maybe been bolstered," Griffin said. "I'm not trying to say that they are falsely testifying or anything like that — I want to be very clear on that — but I'm just wondering how much there's a chance for a mistake or error."

Griffin peppered attorneys on both sides with questions in the hearing held via video Wednesday but declined to issue a decision, saying he'll rule at a later date.

Taylor, 72, who has remained at home in Colorado with an ankle monitor ahead of trial, tuned into the hearing with his video camera off.

His defense attorney Cara Tangaro said her client's health is declining. He's been hospitalized and doctors are concerned that he's lost 100 pounds and can't walk, she said.

Her client denies wrongdoing. He has pleaded not guilty to forcible sodomy, a first-degree felony, in Utah County, and to other charges he faces in a West Jordan courtroom.

The court cases — alleging abuse of a total of three boys, two in the mid-1980s and one in the mid-2000s — have dragged on as attorneys have debated whether the accusations are too old or thin to move forward. Judges in Salt Lake and Utah counties have determined there's enough evidence for Taylor to go on trial separately in both places in October.

The cases overlap in many ways, deputy Utah County attorney Julia Thomas said. Testimony from victims of alleged misconduct in the '80s and another former teen employee helps corroborate the much later account from a man who went to Provo police shortly after the Deseret News published its investigation, she said.

Their descriptions of a "grooming process" by Taylor are similar, Thomas said, and include time spent in the hot tub his home, discussions about sex, viewing porn and touching that progressed to sex acts. She noted Taylor referred to those closest to him as "wayward boys."

"They are independent. They occurred around the same time. They were in the same group of people, and they serve to indicate that this was not a fabrication" by the alleged victim, Thomas said. KSL.com generally does not name victims of alleged sex crimes.

Tangaro argued testimony from three others isn't all that similar and would mainly serve to confuse and mislead the jury in what the defense team said would amount to "at least three trials within a trial."

Even if the judge instructed them not to consider parts of the testimony in certain circumstances, Tangaro said, "if we bring in a parade of witnesses to talk about these things, that's exactly what's going to happen."

Griffin said that's a concern for him, too— that jurors won't distinguish between the case before them and the volume of testimony about other instances.

The youth orchestra has said it does not tolerate sexual abuse and encourages anyone with knowledge of misconduct to inform authorities.

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