A retired Sycamore Junior High School drama teacher who was on trial for allegedly molesting five of his students apparently took his own life as his attorney and a prosecutor were preparing to begin closing arguments this morning.
David Michael Bruce, 68, was found dead in his home in an unincorporated area of Anaheim, said Carrie Braun, a spokeswoman for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.
Bruce’s attorney, Sal Ciulla, and Deputy District Attorney Rick Zimmer, were set to make closing arguments Wednesday morning, but the defendant, who was out on bail, failed to appear in court.
Someone found Bruce’s body in his home and called sheriff’s deputies, Braun said. It is considered a “suspected” suicide, Braun said, adding the official cause of death is pending an autopsy.
Bruce faced between 25 years to life and 200 years to life in prison if he had been convicted.
Bruce was originally charged with molesting six of his former students, but one of the victims was reluctant to participate in the trial so prosecutors amended charges to reflect five victims, Zimmer said. Bruce was on trial on 10 counts of committing lewd acts on minors.
The alleged victims attended the Anaheim school from 1996-98; 1997- 2000; 2002-04; 2007-09; and 2009-11, according to Zimmer. Bruce was accused of starting with massages and then escalating the molestation, according to Zimmer, who said the defendant would take the students back to his residence and to tapings at Los Angeles studios.
“He would tell them he had Hollywood connections” and could help them get jobs in the film industry, Zimmer said in his opening statement of the trial.
“The defendant basically has an obsession with male buttocks,” he said, noting that the allegations included “a lot of rubbing, touching and spanking the buttocks of these victims.”
Police allegedly found erotic photos of young boys in the teacher’s residence. Other evidence included a recorded phone call investigators had one of the alleged victims make to Bruce, in which he allegedly admitted lewd acts, Zimmer said.
One of the boys was a special education student who would “hang out” with his teacher at lunch, according to the prosecutor, who said the educator gave the boy gifts such as an iPod and skateboard. One of the alleged victims confided in his sister, “who actually is the reason this whole investigation got started,” Zimmer said.
When the sister was enrolling her own child at the school years later, she asked if Bruce was still working there. When she was told he had retired, she said she was pleased because he “molested” her brother, Zimmer said.
A custodian at the school reported he “walked in on the defendant massaging a student,” Zimmer said. Ciulla, who did not immediately respond to messages Wednesday, said in his opening statement that the accusers were not telling the truth.
One of the boys “has a history of psychiatric issues,” Ciulla said. “He’s fantasized about these things for so long he doesn’t even remember where fantasy ends and reality begins,” the defense attorney said.
Another alleged victim “has a long history of dishonesty” over a decade, Ciulla said.
“What you’re going to see is a mixed bag with all of these people,” he said.
“The why is money,” Ciulla said. “Three of these five alleged victims have filed lawsuits, with more to come.”
The lawsuits are against Bruce and the “deeper pockets” of the Anaheim Union High School District, Ciulla said.