5-Year-Old Testifies at Molestation Trial

The 5-year-old Montgomery County boy scampered to the witness stand yesterday and, with two favorite Beanie Babies in hand, told the judge about “the tickle man” on the school bus.

“He tickled me here, here and here,” the boy said, pointing first to his neck, then to his chest and finally to his crotch.

Prosecutors and police say Ezaria Ezar Ilkhanoff, 63, did that and much more. The former school bus aide is accused of molesting the kindergartner and four other special education students as they rode to and from class in November. Ilkhanoff, who faces multiple charges of child abuse, sexual abuse and physical abuse, has denied touching the children inappropriately. His attorney, Barry H. Helfand, suggested yesterday that the youngsters’ testimony was encouraged by parents and authorities, who have turned innocent touching into a sex crime. But in opening statements, Assistant State’s Attorney Kristen Bender told Circuit Court Judge Durke G. Thompson that the former aide maneuvered to be around the students. “He’d put in specially to work on special education buses with children less able to communicate and more vulnerable,” Bender told the judge. Ilkhanoff waived his right to a jury trial yesterday. Bender said police first learned of the allegations in November after a 10-year-old girl at Highland View Elementary School in Silver Spring gave a note to her teacher that said, “There’s a man on the school bus touching my legs and bottom.”

The note asked the teacher to call her mother. “P.S.,” the fifth-grader’s note ended. “I asked him to stop, and he won’t stop, and I don’t like it.” After investigating the girl’s allegations, Bender said, a police detective found three other Highland View students — two girls and a boy, ages 9 and 10 — who said Ilkhanoff touched them sexually. The detective learned that the bus aide had been transferred to the Highland View route after the 5-year-old boy’s mother complained to Montgomery school officials about Ilkhanoff’s alleged behavior during her son’s ride to Laytonsville Elementary. The kindergartner’s parents and the parents of the Highland View students have filed “notices of claim” against the Montgomery County Board of Education, stating their intent to sue the school system after Ilkhanoff’s trial. Even if Ilkhanoff is acquitted, the families will proceed with their lawsuits, said Steve McAuliffe, an attorney for four of the families.

The lawsuits will allege that the school system was negligent in transferring Ilkhanoff to another route instead of reporting him to police after the first parent complained, McAuliffe said. Ilkhanoff, who once boxed for the Iranian Olympic team, was not in the courtroom as the youngest boy testified. In cross-examining the child, who wore a white T-shirt and red sweat pants, Helfand playfully asked him to demonstrate how Ilkhanoff touched him. “Show me how he tickled your face,” Helfand said to the boy in an excited giggle. “How did he tickle your body?” “Like this,” the boy giggled back, as he wriggled his fingers against the lawyer’s chest. “When {he} touched your neck, was he tickling your neck?” Helfandcontinued. “No,” the boy said, suddenly somber. “Choked.”

Later, as the child fidgeted in the witness stand’s swivel chair, the judge asked, “Why did he {Ilkhanoff} do it? Do you know?” “I don’t know why he did that,” the child answered. Then the boy asked a question of his own: “Can he go to jail?”