(Stillwater, Okla.) — A Payne County judge has ruled that statements made by former Yale High School math teacher and coach Joseph Kolt Palmer, 29, to a state crime bureau agent regarding his alleged relationship with a then-17-year-old female Yale High School student can be admitted at his Oct. 9 jury trial on sexting and rape charges.
“There were no threats, no promises, no coercion, no deception by the interviewing agent,” made to Palmer when he spoke to Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation Agent Richard Brown two years ago, Associate District Judge Stephen Kistler ruled at the close of a 40-minute hearing this week.
“The court finds both interviews were not custodial interrogation. The court finds the statements given on May 6 and May 23 (of 2016) were voluntary,” the judge explained in overruling a defense motion to suppress evidence.
Defense attorney Corey Brennan had argued that Palmer’s statements to the OSBI agent should be thrown out as violating Palmer’s Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, since Palmer was not notified of his Constitutional rights under the U.S. Supreme Court’s Miranda decision.
But Assistant District Attorney Debra Vincent successfully argued, “There is no requirement to give Miranda (rights) to a person not under arrest. We have two interviews. According to the defendant, he had visited with a lawyer. The lawyer had told him he probably shouldn’t make statements. His (Palmer’s) choice to come to the police department and submit to an interview was clearly of his free will.
“On the second interview, the agent went to his home. The agent said ‘your wife is home – you may want to talk in the car.’ He (Palmer) was not locked in the (agent’s) car, not handcuffed. He’s a college graduate and importantly had consulted with a lawyer. There is nothing to suggest the statements were other than free.”
The defense attorney unsuccessfully maintained that Palmer “was in both of these situations in custody and being interrogated.”
The OSBI agent testified during the Aug. 20 hearing that he never advised Palmer of his rights under the Miranda decision because Palmer was not under arrest. “I never threatened. I probably told him it would help him to cooperate,” the OSBI agent told the judge.
If convicted of engaging in sexual communication with a minor by text messages on a cell phone between March 3 and April 9 of 2016, Palmer could be given as much as a 10-year prison term and a $10,000 fine. If convicted of second-degree rape by having sexual intercourse with a student at least age 16 but under age 20, while he was an employee of the Yale school system on Feb. 13, 2016, Palmer could be given as much as a 15-year prison term, court records show.
After the original sexting charge was filed, which was later amended to include a rape count, Payne County District Attorney Laura Austin Thomas said in an email, “This is a very serious charge. We don’t want this defendant to ever be able to teach again, and that is our primary goal.
“The (Yale) school itself handled the matter promptly and well from this end. The criminal side took more time and we needed cell phone records.
“I think anyone who reads them will have a clear picture of what was occurring with this victim. It’s entirely possible there are other victims,” the DA added.
The case was investigated by the OSBI on the request of Yale Police Chief Phillip Kelly for assistance on May 2, 2016, according to the agent’s affidavit.
When Palmer was interviewed by the OSBI agent four days later, he said that he had received his teaching degree from the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond in May 2015, the affidavit said.
Three months later, Palmer was hired as a full-time math teacher and coach for Yale High School, the affidavit said. Palmer was the assistant coach for the boys’ football team and the boys’ and girls’ basketball teams, the affidavit said.
“Palmer was married and had one child with another one on the way,” the affidavit said.
While teaching at Yale High School, Palmer met a 17-year-old Yale High School junior, the affidavit said.
The student provided Palmer with her cell phone number and the two “would talk with each other via cell phone calls and text messaging during school hours and after school hours,” the affidavit alleged.
On May 23, 2016, the OSBI agent re-interviewed Palmer in a car outside his residence, which was then located in Crescent, according to court documents.
The OSBI agent showed Palmer 14 pages of text messages that were extracted from a consensual search of the student’s cell phone, the affidavit alleged.
On March 3, 2016, shortly before 5:30 a.m., the student texted Palmer, “and I realize that us having sex did not change it,” the affidavit alleged.
During a 15-minute period from 5:09 to 5:24 on April 9, 2016, Palmer and the student exchanged text messages, the affidavit alleged.
When Palmer asked, “so what you think about tonight?” the student replied, “it was more amazing that the last time,” the affidavit alleged.
Palmer asked, ‘was that your first time,” and the student replied, “yeah,” the affidavit alleged.
Palmer admitted to the OSBI agent that he used his iphone6 to send inappropriate text messages to the student about touching her in sexual ways and about having sexual intercourse with her, the affidavit alleged.
“Palmer felt he violated his responsibilities as a teacher by allowing himself to have a relationship and sending inappropriate text messages,” with the Yale student, the affidavit alleged.
“Palmer felt he should have never allowed the relationship to have started,” with the student, the affidavit alleged.
According to court records, the defendant was previously known by the surname of Ford, which was legally changed to Palmer on his request on April 23, 2012, in Logan County by District Judge Phillip Corley.
Palmer was arrested on the original Payne County sexting charge on Sept. 20, 2016, by sheriff’s deputies in Kaufman County, Texas, according to a news release from the OSBI. Palmer, who reportedly had been teaching in Texas, remains free on $10,000 bail.
Palmer, who now has a beard, was wearing a checked shirt and slacks in court this week.
Palmer has been scheduled to appear before the Payne County judge on Oct. 3 for a final pre-trial hearing on the charges, to which he has pleaded innocent.