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Alleged sex abuse victim speaks out

Fredrick Salyers clasped his hands, leaning forward as his elbows rested atop his knees.

He stared blankly at a wall across the room.

"My thing is ... I always keep believing there's someplace else we can go with this," Salyers mused. "I want something done. I get frustrated. I've been carrying this so long."

At the heart of his frustration is his disappointment in the judicial system. He needed it to work. He needed it to give him closure. He got neither.

Weighing on his heart is Charles F. Little Jr.'s court case, which wrapped up in February. Little, a well-known retired Lexington public school music teacher, was accused of sexually abusing three men when they were teenagers in the 1970s and 1980s. Salyers, now 45, was one of those three boys.

In July, Salyers — along with four other named plaintiffs and more than 35 unnamed plaintiffs — filed a class action lawsuit accusing the Fayette County Board of Education of being indifferent to sex abuse allegations in the 1970s and 1980s.

The Herald-Leader does not generally identify people who allege sexual abuse. But Salyers insisted because he wanted to "put a face on things."

Little, 58, was initially facing three felony counts of third-degree sodomy, but prosecutors offered him a plea deal, amending the charges to three misdemeanor counts of sexual misconduct.

The retired music teacher entered an Alford plea, meaning he was not admitting guilt but acknowledging that there was enough evidence to find him guilty if he went to trial. Fayette Circuit Judge Kim Bunnell suspended a 12-month jail sentence and placed Little on probation for two years.

Bunnell said she took into account Little's criminal record, which — aside from a speeding ticket — is without blemish. She also was swayed by more than 100 letters written to her in support of Little.

For Salyers, the plea deal was the first disappointing blow. The sentencing was the second. The point for Salyers was the telling.

"Where do I go to get my justice?" Salyers asked. "I'd rather had my day in court and had the jury — a jury of 12 peers — say not guilty than have him take a plea."

'Who would believe it?'

Deep in his heart, Salyers says he never thought Little would spend a day in jail.

That was, in part, because of Little's high profile in the community. So many people thought highly of him that Sal yers wondered, "who would believe it?"

Salyers said he didn't necessarily want Little to go to jail. He thought Little would at least have to register as a sex offender, which would have prohibited him from working with children. Little was convicted of misdemeanor charges, so he did not have to register as a sex offender.

Now Salyers is hoping the lawsuit provides him with a sense of justice and closure.

Little has not been named in the lawsuit, which was made public about two weeks ago. No other school employees have been named in the suit, though a judge has asked the plaintiffs to provide more details about the suit's allegations.

Salyers said the lawsuit isn't about him; it's about everyone who is involved. "I want all of us to have justice because we didn't get any justice from (Fayette Commonwealth's Attorney) Ray Larson," he said. "It's just vindication. Knowing something was done."

Coming forward

Little was arrested and charged in January 2005 with using a minor in a sexual performance and with third-degree sodomy. Initially, Little faced accusations from Robert H. Burnett II, now 39, who said he was abused from 1984 through 1985. But days after Burnett's allegations surfaced in the media, Salyers and another man contacted police. Because Burnett was convicted of sexual abuse, he has been named in previous Herald-Leader articles. Salyers said he reached out to police because he got tired of people "bad-mouthing" Burnett. People assumed Burnett came forward because he wanted attention — or to cash in on a big lawsuit against Fayette County schools. But Sal yers said he wanted people to know that Little was not who he appeared to be.

Salyers didn't know Burnett. In fact, he said, "I wouldn't know him if you brought him into the room right now."

But he knew Little.

"I didn't come forward for me," Salyers recalled. "I came forward for someone else ... I wanted people to know Burnett wasn't crazy."

Salyers said he met Little when he was about 12.

According to a Lexington police investigative summary and court documents, Salyers said he was first molested by the music teacher when he was a 14-year-old eighth grader at Lexington Junior High, which became Lexington Traditional Magnet School in 1990.

Salyers played the viola in the school orchestra, and Little was one of the school's music instructors.

Salyers, the youngest of five boys and one girl, said his relationship with Little developed during a difficult time — when his father, Nelson Sal yers, was battling cancer.

Mayme Salyers was caring for her sick husband while juggling two jobs, trying to make ends meet. From 6 a.m. to about 10 a.m., she filled in for her husband, picking up his janitorial contracts. And then, from noon to 6 p.m., she worked on the assembly line at the McAlpins distribution center.

When Nelson Salyers died in 1979, Fredrick Salyers said, Little was there for him.

Emotionally, Salyers struggled to cope with his father's death. In fits of rage, he destroyed his old sports trophies, pictures and other mementoes. Essentially, he was in "emotional turmoil," his mother recalled.

Little stepped in as a mentor — and a father figure. Mayme Salyers said she stayed busy, constantly working or going to Bible studies.

"I was busy, thinking I was doing the right thing, trying to provide a good life for my children," she said. And then, "this well-standing, well-thought-of man took an interest in my child."

Fredrick Salyers said he began hanging around Little because he gave him things to do; he gave him more freedom than he had at home, let him drive and stay up late. And, he said: "Charles could cook; he could cook his butt off — and I loved to eat."

Salyers said that he was with Little about four or five times per week. When Little went out of town for choir concerts, Salyers often tagged along to run errands or help with set-up.

He said he spent the night at Little's apartment on Cambridge Drive about once a month. On some of those occasions, Salyers told police, Little had him sleep in the bed with him. It was during one of those sleepovers when Little first attempted to molest him, according to police reports and documents filed in Fayette Circuit Court.

Court records state that all three victims said they were abused at Little's apartment, and two of the three reported spending the night. Two of the victims in the case reported that the abuse was videotaped, court documents state.

Salyers said he had never told anyone what happened, except an ex-girlfriend whom he confided in around 1997. She tried to encourage him to come forward, but he wasn't ready.

When asked why he waited so many years to come forward, Salyers replied: "Shame. Shame. Shame."

After talking to police, Sal yers spoke briefly with prosecutors. But after that, he said, he never heard anything more about the case.

Little's case wound up sitting idle on the prosecutor's desk for two years. Little was released on bond. His case wasn't presented to a grand jury until a week after the Herald-Leader began inquiring about the case. Larson said the case was delayed, in part, because the prosecutor who was handling the cases took a job at the county attorney's office.

Salyers said he never thought that prosecutors were being straightforward with him. He called the office occasionally for updates, but said his calls were not returned. But months later they contacted Salyers, and he testified before the grand jury.

Then he didn't hear anything again.

Months later, prosecutors offered Little a plea deal.

Allegations by attorney

Shortly before Little's sentencing, attorney Gayle Slaughter wrote a letter to Judge Bunnell, asking her to "vindicate" Little's victims by sentencing him to serve the maximum amount of time allowed — one year. Slaughter, who had been monitoring Little's case and represents Salyers in the federal lawsuit, wrote in her letter that Larson "is a personal friend of Mr. Little, has a direct conflict of interest here and has knowingly and fraudulently cut a sweetheart secret deal" with Little.

Little and his attorney, Jim Lowry, declined to comment for this article.

Larson has dismissed Slaughter's accusations. He says he knew Little, had worked with him once on a committee for a music program that benefits black achievers, and said Little "was a teacher when my son went to school; my son played trombone in the band."

"Were we friends? No. Do I know him?" Larson said. "Here's the deal: I know a number of people that our office prosecutes, and that's not a disqualification, nor is this."

He said there's "no reason to think the case was mishandled."

"The guy is convicted of a sex crime — three counts," Larson said of Little. "That's the best we thought we could do given all of the circumstances. We have to make these types of judgments — and we do regularly."

Larson says both sides — prosecutors and the defense — were at a crossroads.

He said the defense didn't want the case to go to trial because they were afraid of what a jury might do based on the evidence. On the other hand, Larson said, his office didn't want to go to trial "because we were afraid of what a jury might do.

"We did not want the defendant to walk away with nothing."

Struggling with the past

Sitting at her dining room table, Mayme Salyers, 72, sorted through a manila folder filled with every newspaper article from Little's case.

She pulled out two sheets of notebook paper on which she had exhausted her thoughts days after Little's sentencing. Nearby was a tattered envelope filled with a stack of Freddy's school awards and pictures of him in his teenage years.

"I can see the pain in his face," she said of the "very personable" child in the pictures. "A picture says a thousand words. It does."

She, too, struggles with the outcome of the case.

Mayme Salyers says she's lost friends over Little's case because so many people supported him.

The court record in Little's case is filled with letters from ministers, educators, former students and parents — all in support of Little's character.

"Mr. Little is an intelligent, talented, educated and decent man," wrote Timothy Scully, a retired assistant chief of police. "My home is always open to him, as I trust him explicitly ...."

Mayme Salyers says Fredrick Salyers was always a good kid, and he was very athletic. He was a star quarterback at Lafayette High School, and he won state in the 300-meter hurdles in track.

But, as he got older, he struggled to find his way.

He attended Kentucky State University, where he played on the football team for about two years. But the allure of partying was too much — too much drinking and not enough time in the classroom. Mayme Salyers eventually decided she wasn't going to pay for his schooling anymore.

Fredrick Salyers dropped out, then did a stint in the Army. But, Mayme Salyers said, he left after about two years.

He had a couple of run-ins with the law — for failing to pay his child support. And then he got caught up in drugs, he said. He works odd jobs now.

Fredrick Salyers knows his mom feels guilty, but he never blamed her for what happened.

Still, he said, "there's a lot of pain there."

"We've talked. It's better," he said.

Telling his family was one of the hardest things he said he's done. Salyers admits he had problems, but thinks it could have been much worse.

Salyers, a father of three, is trying to mend the relationship he has with his children. He has a son, a senior at Morehouse College, and a daughter who attends Henry Clay High School.

Salyers never really told them about what happened. He wants to have a heart-to-heart with them soon, so they can understand what he was dealing with — why he wasn't always there for them when they were growing up.

"I'm slowly putting the pieces back together," Fredrick Salyers said.