LOS ANGELES (CBS) — A judge declined to reduce the $23 million bail Wednesday for Mark Berndt, a former Miramonte Elementary School teacher, accused of abusing nearly two dozen children.
Berndt, 61, pleaded not guilty last month to 23 counts of committing a lewd act on a child.
He is accused of taking photos of students while they were bound and gagged in his classroom. Some photos show cockroaches being placed on students’ faces, while others show them being spoon fed a milky-white substance that tested positive for Berndt’s DNA.
After uncovering nearly 300 photos, investigators used DNA evidence to connect Berndt to the victims. They then found spoons in the instructor’s trash — similar to the ones used in the photos — that reportedly contained Berndt’s bodily fluid.
In court Wednesday, Berndt’s attorney, Victor Acevedo, said his client was not a flight risk and his bail should be reduce to $1 million.
However, as KNX 1070’s John Brooks reports, the judge refused after claiming several of Berndt’s victims have reported nightmares about their abuse.
Acevedo said those claims could limit his client’s right to a fair trial.
“None of these children that have been interviewed have said anything whatsoever about them even knowing what’s going on. So obviously that raises concerns in my mind. Who has been feeding kids information?” Acevedo said.
Berndt will return to court on May 1 to set a date for a preliminary hearing.
Berndt was fired last January and, given school policy, was able to resign soon after — a move that allows long-time teachers to keep their pension.
He is being held in solitary confinement on $23 million bail, $1 million for each count.