Karate instructor accused of molesting student free on bail - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

WEDNESDAY, October 6, 2010

Karate instructor accused of molesting student free on $800,000 bail

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Enhanced audio of recorded telephone conversation:

SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) - An Allied Gardens karate instructor arrested two months ago on charges of having sex with a teenage student was released from jail Wednesday after posting $800,000 bail.

Eric Protas, 38, is scheduled to face a jury trial next month on 29 counts of engaging in oral and anal sex with the student over a ten month period in 2009 and 2010, when the boy was age 13 and 14.

On Tuesday, the alleged victim came face to face with Protas – who was still in custody at the time – in an El Cajon courtroom during a preliminary hearing and testified in detail about the alleged sexual relationship.

During the hearing, prosecutors played audio of a so-called "pretext" telephone conversation between the boy -- identified in court as Trevor J. – and Protas. The controlled phone conversation was recorded prior to Protas' arrest and with police nearby coaching the boy as he spoke.

Media representatives in the audience Tuesday recorded the audio as it played in open court, using microphones placed several feet in front of a boom-box CD player. The scratchy audio recording was so poor it was difficult to follow the conversation during several key portions of the verbal exchange.

News 8 later used audio enhancing software to improve the quality of the recording, which captured Trevor J. and Protas allegedly talking about sex. The boy is heard asking leading questions as Protas responds with guarded answers.

Trevor: "I miss everything that we did."

Protas: "Me too."

Trevor: "Even the physical stuff."

Protas: "Me too."

The conversation continues for about 16 minutes.

Trevor: "Do you think that we could achieve the same level of connection without having the sex?"

Protas: "Umm. I don't want to talk about that."

Trevor: "Well, you know that was a huge part?"

Protas: "Ah, yeah."

Following the court hearing, Judge William McGrath bound Protas over for trial and denied News 8's request to obtain a digital copy of the audio CD, as well as a written transcript of the telephone recording.

Defense attorney Albert Arena successfully argued that both the CD and the written transcript should be sealed. Arena said the audio recording does not tell the entire story.

"There are certain things you haven't heard about this young man's background that will put Mr. Protas' comments in context with what he was talking about," Arena told News 8 outside court.

During cross examination, Arena had questioned the boy about a troubled family life and a shoplifting arrest just prior to the student's reporting of the alleged molestation.

First Amendment attorney Guylyn Cummins told News 8 the judge's ruling blocking media access to copy the audio recording goes against established California case law (KNSD Channels 7/39 v. Superior Court (1998) 63 Cal.App.4th 1200).

"Our own court of appeal has said once evidence has been presented in an open court proceeding where the press is there, the public's interest in the particular evidence is particularly clear," Cummings said in an interview from her office at the Sheppard Mullin law firm downtown.

News 8 is interested in obtaining a digital copy of the audio recording and the written transcript to clarify the comments made by both Trevor J. and Eric Protas.

"The bottom line is, it was played in a public court proceeding so it's already public information," Cummins said.

Cummins said overturning Judge McGrath's ruling could cost thousands of dollars in attorney fees, however, given the possibility of the ruling being taken to the appellate court level. To date, a media-sponsored court challenge to the ruling has not been filed.

Protas is facing a maximum of 48 years in prison if convicted on all counts. He has been ordered to have no contact with the alleged victim while out on bail.

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