Editor's note: The details in this article may be disturbing to some readers.
The first group of 17 women who were allegedly molested by Palo Alto math tutor Mark Allan Hodes when they were children took the stand on Monday to testify during his preliminary hearing.
Hodes, with graying hair, glasses and hearing aids, appeared at the Hall of Justice in San Jose wearing a brown jail jumpsuit. He sat attentively while five of his alleged victims, who are now in their 20s, testified by videoconference.
Hodes, 76, was arrested by Palo Alto police at his Manuela Avenue home on Aug. 25, 2020, and charged with nine felony counts related to lewd or lascivious acts with a minor. The criminal complaint against him has since been amended twice, the latest on Oct. 18, 2021, as more alleged survivors have come forward. He now faces 55 felony counts.
The charges include 39 counts of lewd or lascivious acts with a minor aged 14 or 15 while being at least 10 years older than the minor; and 16 counts of lewd or lascivious acts with a minor under age 14. Hodes could receive 27 to 81 years in state prison if convicted on all 27 counts of the acts on a minor aged 14 or 15 and 25 years to life of each of the 16 counts on girls younger than 14, according to court documents.
The alleged incidents occurred between 2002 and 2018, with the youngest girls being 12 to 13 years old. Under state law, the statute of limitations has not expired in these cases. As many as 14 women are expected to testify during the preliminary hearing, Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Michael Gadeburg said.
On Monday, Nov. 21, five women took the stand to describe their experiences with Hodes. All were referred to as "Jane Doe" to protect their privacy.
Jane Doe 3, the second to testify, said she was 14 years old at the time and alleged that Hodes had touched her under her skirt. She said that she could see through Hodes' pants that he was sexually excited.
On cross-examination, his defense attorneys asked if she had considered if he was wearing adult diapers that might explain the bulge in his pants. She said she did not.
Hodes had his hand on her inner thigh at the time.
"I saw him just three months. I just felt so deeply uncomfortable every single time I went there," she said.
At one point when her father came to pick her up after one of the tutoring sessions, she said she couldn't go back.
"I felt like I couldn't tell them. My parents wanted me to continue to go there. I just broke down in tears. I screamed. I cried. I sobbed. And my parents never made me go back there again," she said.
Another victim, Jane Doe 5, was a Castilleja School student when Hodes began tutoring her during her freshman year. Now 29 years old, she said Hodes had tutored her sister in mathematics. Many of their encounters took place in a basement room at the school and other encounters were at his home, she said.
Hodes allegedly began touching her during their tutoring sessions by sliding his hand up her thigh starting at the knee. He would continue the touching while explaining a math problem to her, sometimes removing his hand when he was explaining something in particular. But his hand always returned, moving up and down the inside of her thigh. He never touched her genitals, she said.
Doe 5 said they always sat side by side at the work table. At the Castilleja sessions, she was wearing her uniform, a dress, but during sessions at his home, she always made an effort to wear pants in case he touched her, she said. She met with Hodes one to two times a week, although sometimes more frequently during test preparations, she said.
"It made me feel very uncomfortable. Internally, I questioned what I would do if he touched me on the genitals. That's the boundary I set," she said.
Hodes never spoke about anything other than math. He never made sexualized comments or asked her to touch him, she said.
Doe 5 said prior to their first meeting, her sister told her that he was "a great tutor but a little weird. I asked why, and she said, 'He will touch you on your leg a lot,'" she recalled.
She said that her sister's tolerance "normalized the behavior to me. There was a picture of a young girl in the room. I thought that was his daughter. I remember thinking that a man who had a daughter wouldn't do anything bad to another man's daughter," she said.
Outside of their tutoring sessions, she also had contact with Hodes on a couple of occasions. Her parents invited him to her high school graduation party. She also consulted him at her parents' suggestion when she had questions about statistics problems and he offered to help her, she said. Those contacts were by phone or videoconference and were not in person, she said.
"Did you think he's a good tutor?" defense attorney Trisha Luciano asked during cross-examination.
"That's a complicated answer — because he made me feel uncomfortable — but I also got better grades in math," she said.
Some of the most serious allegations involving Hodes—– the ones that if proven could each land him in prison for 25 years to life — involve children under the age of 14.
Jane Doe 13 said she was a student at Jordan Middle School (now Greene Middle School) when she began struggling with pre-algebra in seventh grade. She saw Hodes for two years; she was 12 years old when the school year started in 2008 and she began seeing Hodes for lessons.
He had her sit next to him at the table and would grope her by touching and rubbing her leg, chest and arm. He allegedly positioned his knee between her legs while he touched her outer and inner thigh with a rubbing motion, she said. Sometimes their sides were touching and he would touch her chest area and arm.
"I was a child and I didn't have breasts," she said. The touching occurred "essentially every time" they met.
"All of the touching was over your clothes?" defense attorney Daniel Barton asked.
"No," she replied.
The issue of whether the alleged touching occurred over or under the clothing became a point of contention that led to aggressive questioning of Doe 13 and heated debate between Barton and Gadeburg. The prosecutor told Judge Jesus Valencia Jr. that the defense was harassing the witness. Valencia let the questioning proceed. Jane Doe 13 said that Hodes had on occasion rubbed her stomach area under her shirt, though on her chest he had touched over her clothing.
Barton also questioned the timeline of when she first started seeing Hodes, an important distinction given the severity of the potential sentence if she was younger than 14 at the time the alleged molestation began.
Jane Doe 13 said she didn't tell her parents about the incidents at the time, nor did she think she could tell Hodes not to touch her.
"I didn't feel comfortable. He was an authority figure; I was a kid," she said.
Then, there was the photograph of his daughter that he kept in his home.
"I thought maybe this is normal. I felt like he must be safe. He had his (now grown) daughter, and she's successful," she said.
"Because of the position he had, and it was so hard to get an appointment with him, I thought 'Maybe this is what I have to endure,'" she said.
Five more victims testified on Tuesday. The preliminary hearing is scheduled to continue with additional victim testimony on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1. Hodes remains in custody without bail, but his defense team is seeking bail to have him released. Gadeburg said witnesses are exercising their rights under Marsy's Law, the Victims' Bill of Rights Act of 2008, to tell the court how the crimes have affected them so a judge may consider the impact in assessing the danger Hodes poses to the community if he is released.