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Whatever Happened To: Jeffrey Branson

Editor's note: This is one of a series of stories to be published through the end of the year, bringing readers up to date on topics and people who were in the news during the past year.

A former Barron Collier High School band teacher will go to court next month on charges he met a 12-year-old boy on the Internet and had sexual encounters with him.

Jeffry "Mark" Branson, 45, of 2815 Sailors Way, North Naples, was arrested July 8 on seven counts of lewd or lascivious battery/sexual act with a person 12 to 15 years old and two counts of lewd or lascivious molestation with a victim 12 to 16 years old.

Branson is scheduled to appear Jan. 18 in Collier County Circuit Court for a sounding. Such a hearing gives the judge the chance to hear from the lawyers about the status of preparing the case for trial, likely held within two weeks if the attorneys are ready.

According to court documents, Branson met the 12-year-old boy online in a gay chat room in 2002.

Branson told the boy he was a 36-year-old banker online, but admitted to the boy he was a teacher when they met in person, according to court documents.

Branson first met the boy, now 15, in person at the North Naples United Methodist Church, where the boy was a member of the chorus and youth group, according to court documents.

The boy told police Branson said they could only meet at night, according to court documents. Branson asked the boy if they could go to the Barron Collier High School band room because Branson's roommate was home, according to court documents. The boy declined and suggested they go to a motel, according to the documents.

Branson took the boy to the Knight's Inn, which is now the Spinnaker Inn, where they engaged in sexual intercourse, according to the court documents. The boy told police Branson told him not to tell anyone about the relationship because Branson would get in trouble and did not like doing this because he was religious, according to court documents.

Branson and the boy had sexual intercourse a total of seven or eight times, mostly at Branson's home and once at the boy's home, according to court documents.

The boy was able to provide authorities with a diagram of Branson's home's layout and recalled a "Will & Grace" magnet affixed to the refrigerator, according to court documents.

He also was able to provide authorities with an intimate physical description of Branson, according to court documents.

The boy told police he terminated the relationship over Christmas break in 2003 after talking with friends, according to documents. The sex crimes Branson is accused of occurred between Oct. 1, 2002, and Dec. 31, 2003, according to court documents.

School officials were alerted to the relationship in January 2005 after receiving an anonymous letter, according to court documents.

Allun Hamblett, the district's executive director of human resources, began his investigation into the matter Feb. 1, according to court documents. Branson initially told Hamblett that he didn't know the boy at all, but had met him at a church musical function.

Hamblett interviewed Branson several times, according to court documents. During the multiple interviews, Branson admitted to Hamblett that he met the boy online in a gay chat room and met the boy because he wanted someone to talk to about being gay, according to court documents.

Branson told Hamblett that he thought the boy might be suicidal, but admitted he didn't report that to the district, as is policy, according to court documents.

Branson contacted the district's Employee Assistance Program for an appointment to "help him work through being gay," according to court documents.

School officials declined to comment on the case. The district refused to release its investigative report pending notification of approval to do so from the State Attorney's Office.

Branson, who had been the band director for 20 years at Barron Collier High School, was removed from his job in February by district officials. He quit his $50,780-a-year position one week later.

Branson was widely known for building Barron Collier's band into an award-winning, competitive organization. He started his position at 24, after coming to the Collier County School District from Lemon Bay High in Charlotte County.

In 2001, the band director and history teacher was named the Outstanding High School Teacher for Collier County.

© 2005 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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