No end in sight in New Hanover’s Michael Kelly sex crimes case

Four years after former New Hanover County Public Schools teacher Michael Kelly was arrested on 60 sex crimes charges, the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation and N.C. Department of Justice have no real results, according to a report by WECT.

Excerpt from WECT’s report:

The State Bureau of Investigation and the NC Attorney General’s Office tell WECT News the investigation is ongoing.

“Our office is reviewing materials from the SBI as they arrive. As you may have seen in the public filings in the civil case, waiting to obtain the depositions and have them compiled has also been a lengthy necessity. Our office will take the time necessary to conduct a thorough review. We have also been proceeding forward in the case of State v. Peter Frank, which is set for trial on 5/9/22. We hope to have the matter concluded as soon as possible,” NC Attorney General Josh Stein’s spokesperson Nazneen Ahmed told WECT when asked for an update on the case.

District Attorney Ben David told WECT he is ethically prohibited from commenting on a pending case, but he has urged state officials to expedite the investigation so that the public can learn whether school administrators are criminally negligent for their role in the sex scandal. While he could not comment, he lobbied for the release of his correspondence, requested by WECT as part of a public records request, with state agencies in this matter.

The correspondence, just released to WECT by the Administrative Office of the Courts, shows that a year after the investigation started, David began advocating for a conclusion to the investigation.

“My office is once again being asked by the press to make a comment… about why we failed to act [in the Nicholas Oates case], when in truth we were never notified by the SRO about the allegations. I understand our ethical obligations about remaining silent [while] an investigation is pending…. Any insight when we might be getting a conclusion on the investigation?” David wrote to NC Department of Justice Attorney Leslie Cooley-Dismukes on August 7, 2020.

The New Hanover County School board is scheduled to go to trial in September in the civil case against them regarding Kelly. There are more than a dozen Kelly’s victims as plaintiffs claiming the district and school administrators failed to stop Kelly from abusing them even after being told about his actions multiple times over the years.

WECT notes, “The plaintiffs in that case have several hurdles to overcome. The schools’ insurance company is claiming they are not liable for many of the claims contained in the lawsuit, detailing their position in court documents filed just last week.”

“A state court of appeals panel also complicated matters when they recently ruled that a law extending the statute of limitations for victims of sex crimes in North Carolina is unconstitutional,” WECT reported. “The disputed law had given several of the plaintiffs in the case, who are now in their 20s and 30s, the opportunity to join the lawsuit. Attorneys say the recent ruling will likely be reconsidered by the State Supreme Court.”

The long road of abuse in New Hanover Public Schools

This website has tracked the Michael Kelly case, as well as the other New Hanover cases that followed involving Nichola Oates and Peter Frank.

Peter Michael Frank, was arrested in January of 2020 and charged with six counts of indecent liberties with a child and six counts of indecent liberties with a student. He was a band teacher are Roland-Grise Middle School; one of the schools Kelly also taught at.

In 2018, Nicholas Lavon Oates, was originally charged with one count of indecent liberties with a child and one count of statutory rape of a child under the age of 15. Oates was a Special Education assistant at Myrtle Grove Middle School at the time of his arrest.

The charges increased with the addition of 22 more, including four additional counts of indecent liberties with a child, six counts of statutory sex offense with a child under the age of 15, four counts of second-degree kidnapping, four counts of taking indecent liberties with a student, and four counts of sexual activity with a student.

Oates was never be sentenced having died of liver failure in custody awaiting trial in November 2019. Oates was apparently the brother of the New Brunswick schools superintendent, Dr. Jerry Oates. According to reports by Port City Daily, Oates had a significant criminal record yet the district hired him anyway.

The most prolific case is that of Michael Kelly, whose victims spanned decades and who was convicted in 2019 on 61 felony counts. The criminal case is long over, but the civil case against Kelly and New Hanover Public Schools continues. He taught at multiple schools in the district and over a dozen victims have come forward.

Michael Kelly: A brief timeline of a serial abuser

February 2o18:
Kelly is arrested and is initially charged with one count of third-degree sexual exploitation of a minor and three counts of indecent liberties with a student. His arrest was the result of a joint operation by the FBI and the New Hanover County Sheriff Department.

March 2018:
More victims are discovered and more than a dozen new charges are added.  At that time, the full list of charges against Kelly included:

  • One count statutory sex offense with a child
  • Two counts solicitation to commit a felony
  • Five counts of indecent liberties with a child
  • Five counts of sexual exploitation of a minor
  • Sixteen counts of indecent liberties with a student

April 2018: Seven more victims are identified and the number of felony charges rose to 59.

  • 1 Count Indecent Liberties/Student (Bond: $1,000,000.00)
  • 1 Count Statutory Sex Offense w/ Child Under 15 years old
  • 3 Counts Solicitation to commit (Bond: $500,000.00)
  • 1 Count Attempted Sexual Offense w/ Student
  • 1 Count Sexual Exploitation of  Minor (First Degree)
  • 8 Counts Sexual Exploitation of  Minor (Second Degree)
  • 1 Count Sexual Exploitation of  Minor (Third Degree)
  • 23 Counts Indecent Liberties w/ Student  (Bond: $500,000.00)
  • 20 Counts Indecent Liberties w/ child (Bond: $100,000.00)

Michael Kelly - New Hanover

Michael Kelly

June of 2019: 
Kelly pleads guilty to the majority of the 61 felony charges that were pending against him. Kelly surrendered his teaching license to the state in July 2019. Judge John Nobles sentences Kelly to 16 to 24 years in prison on the most serious charges of child exploitation and statutory sex offense.

Kelly’s additional 57 charges are consolidated for judgment, with Nobles adding a sentence of 20-84 months (up to 7 years) to be served following completion of the first sentence.

Kelly will serve a maximum of 24 years and three months and a maximum of an additional 7 years following the completion of the first sentence.

July of 2019:
Holliday resigned less than a week after the New Hanover Sheriff indicated an investigation had been opened into claims that the district was warned about a teacher sexually abusing students yet failed to act.

Holliday has been named in the investigation by at least two sets of parents who had complained about Kelly and other teacher behavior, according to Port City Daily. The parents allege Holliday did not act and did not report the complaints to the district.

April of 2020:
Four other victims are added to the civil lawsuit. The complaint document at that time included 10 John Does and graphic details.

May of 2021:
More victims of Michael Kelly are added to the lawsuit against the New Hanover County School district. The total number of victims rises to 13.

But the issues plaguing the district don’t end with Kelly, Oates, and Frank.

Last fall, New Hanover teacher Terry Wayne Hughes was arrested for assault on a female, and teaching assistant Sequana Brown was arrested for simple assault and misdemeanor child abuse involving a 12-year-old student.

Earlier, in April of 2021, two New Hanover educators were arrested within weeks of each other. Ronnie Strickland, a retired volleyball coach, was arrested on two counts of sexual activity by a custodian for alleged offenses dating back to the 80s. David Bostian was accused of two counts of a sexual offense by a government employee. Bostian committed suicide hours after being released on bond.

About A.P. Dillon

A.P. Dillon is a reporter currently writing at The North State Journal. She resides in the Triangle area of North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_ Tips:
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