By James Greaves
A former college instructor accused of raping an 18-year-old hearing-impaired student pleaded not guilty to four felony counts in Provo”s 4th District Court on Wednesday.
Roger Wilkins, 37, of Lehi was charged with attempted rape and forcible sodomy, both first-degree felonies that carry imprisonment penalties of five years to life. He was also charged with two counts of forcible sex abuse, second-degree felonies with possible prison sentences of one to 15 years. Originally he had been charged with rape, a count that was later changed to attempted rape – both first-degree felonies.
A four-day jury trial was set for Feb. 28, 2005.
Wilkins had been a part-time American Sign Language instructor for over two years at both Utah Valley State College and Salt Lake Community College at the time of the alleged incidents, which occurred on Jan. 5 and Jan. 9.
According to the victim”s testimony in a preliminary hearing in April, the two met while she attended SLCC in the fall semester of 2003. They became friends and began to converse regularly through e-mail and telephone for the hearing-impaired. When she began to have problems at home, Wilkins invited her to move in with his family. She moved in with Wilkins, his wife and three children in the middle of December.
The victim said she tried to stop Wilkins, telling him no by shaking her head, mouthing the word and using sign language.
Wilkins, who is himself hearing-impaired, addressed Judge Lynn W. Davis through an interpreter to enter his pleas of not guilty on the four counts Wednesday. In February, he posted $25,000 bail for his release from Utah County Jail.
Wilkins is a registered sex offender after being convicted in 1994 for molesting two boys while he was the director of a summer camp for deaf children.
SLCC dismissed Wilkins shortly after his arrest on grounds of “falsifying an application for employment,” after he allegedly failed to disclose the fact he was a convicted sex offender, according to Joy Tlou, SLCC director of public relations.
The college has no formal way of doing background checks on employees, but does ask every prospective employee about any prior convictions.
Tlou said the college is currently working on a policy that will address the issue of checking prospective and current employees for criminal records without invading their privacy.
At UVSC, Wilkins was hired as an adjunct professor, meaning his contract was on a semester-to-semester basis. When he was arrested, UVSC declined to renew that contract, according to Derek Hall, director of college relations at UVSC.
UVSC also does not have a policy to do background checks on their employees, though they do ask whether prospective employees have been convicted of any felonies. However, in 1994, Wilkins was convicted of a class A misdemeanor, not a felony.
“Being a registered sex offender does not exclude someone from employment,” Hall said. “But as a registered sex offender, he was required to notify us.”
UVSC was aware of Wilkins” conviction and had made steps to insure the safety of the students.
“His original offence was against a minor,” Hall said. “He was teaching adults here. His supervisors were made aware. There was additional supervision made available.”