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Thursday, January 11, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Testimony to begin in choir director's child sex-abuse trial

Seattle Times staff reporter

Testimony will begin today in the trial of Antwoine Parmer, a well-known youth-choir director accused of having sex with a former member of the choir.

Parmer, 34, founded SHADES of Unity youth choir in 1994 and has led hundreds of local children and teens in practices and performances of gospel at churches, community centers, performance venues, Seattle Center and even City Hall. Parmer became known in the community for bringing at-risk, inner-city youth into the program and helping them to change their lives for the better.

But last summer, Seattle police began to investigate Parmer after a 21-year-old man said Parmer had sexually abused him while he was a member of the youth choir. Parmer is charged with second-degree child rape.

The man said the inappropriate behavior began when he was 11 years old, according to court documents. When he was 13, according to the documents, Parmer invited him to sleep with Parmer in the man's bed during a sleepover, which were common occurrences among Parmer and choir members.

During that sleepover, Parmer allegedly had sex with the boy, according to the charges. The sexual contacts continued until the boy was about 15, the charges say.

The man told police that he had kept the abuse private for years, telling only one friend. But after he turned 18, when he was about to go to college, the man decided to tell his mother, police and officials at Seattle's Union Gospel Mission — which heads the choir program — what had happened.

The Seattle Times typically does not name victims of sex crimes.

This is not the first time a former choir member has made similar accusations against Parmer.

Twin brothers who were once in the choir told Child Protective Services in 1998 that when they were 14 or 15 years old, Parmer molested them during a sleepover, according to the police report. The investigation was closed after the boys couldn't be located, and criminal charges were never filed.

Parmer, who is married with three children and was once a foster parent, has denied the charges. He said Wednesday he is still directing the choir, and a handful of youth attended the first day of the trial to support him.

Michael Nance, Parmer's defense attorney, said in his opening statements to the jury Wednesday that the accusations were simply "the smearing of a good man's name," and that the men who have accused him suffered from sexual confusion and frustration.

But Scott Leist, deputy prosecuting attorney, said Parmer purposefully groomed his victims for abuse and violated a position of trust. "The SHADES of Unity choir should have been a safe place," he told the jury.

SHADES stands for Showing How Adolescents Demonstrate Excellence in Society.

Union Gospel Mission did not return a phone call regarding Parmer's employment or the choir's status. But Lisa Fitzhugh, director of Arts Corps, an arts-education program that sponsored the choir, said in a message Wednesday that her group cut ties with the choir this summer after learning about the charges against Parmer.

Natalie Singer: 206-464-2704

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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