Quinn James, who was previously convicted of armed robbery, faces trial April 9 in Kent County Circuit Court on third-degree criminal sexual conduct charges. The partially clothed body of 16-year-old Mujey Dumbuya, the girl he's accused of assaulting, was found last month in a wooded area about 50 miles (80 kilometers) from her Grand Rapids home.
"We're still going forward" with the sexual assault trial, Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
Mujey's family last saw her alive on Jan. 24 as she headed off to East Kentwood High School in Kentwood, near Grand Rapids. Passers-by found her body four days later in Kalamazoo, in southwestern Michigan.
The decision by Kentwood Public Schools, the district that Mujey attended, to hire James was discussed during a school board meeting Monday.
"Is that acceptable to our community values and best practices to have people with criminal records employed by the school?" a parent, Mary Bruce, asked.
It's not clear when the 42-year-old James was hired. He was arrested in November and charged with third-degree criminal sexual conduct with a person age 13-15. He had been out on bond, but on Feb. 1 authorities in Kent County picked him up on a 2014 sexual assault charge unrelated to Mujey.
James told WOOD-TV in an interview Saturday from the Kent County Jail that he never met Mujey and that he had "nothing to do with" her death and knows "nothing about it."
James' public defender didn't return a message to the AP seeking comment Tuesday.
Police have said James told investigators he had consensual sex with the girl on at least two occasions.
No arrests have been made in her death and James has not been charged in relation to that, Kalamazoo police Capt. Shannon Bagley told the AP.
Since Mujey's death is an active investigation, Bagley was careful in releasing details of the case or directly connecting James to it.
"At this time, I'm not comfortable saying he is a person of interest," Bagley said. "Of course, we are looking at everything right now. We just have a tremendous amount of information that we have to sift through."
Kentwood Public Schools told parents, teachers and students at the high school about Mujey's death in a Jan. 31 letter. On Thursday, the district released information about James' employment, saying he was hired as a member of the grounds and maintenance crew. That letter also said that "none of his job responsibilities required contact with students."
"Mr. James was hired because he fit the qualifications for working as a groundskeeper," the letter said.
But "in the middle of November 2017, district leaders were made aware by a student and her family of an alleged assault that occurred during the summer months of 2017, when school was not in session," the letter stated.
The district said it investigated the allegations and James was fired Nov. 30.
The district also said James did not meet the student "who was so tragically murdered" through his work duties at school, but came in contact with her during the summer.
Still, some question the hiring of James, whose criminal record includes a 1991 armed robbery conviction in Kent County, according to MLive.com.
"To have a person with that background around kids, you're making your kids vulnerable," parent Keith Edwards told WOOD-TV following Monday's school board meeting. "I'm all for second chances, to be honest, and I understand people need to have second chances. But you gotta still be vigilant and protect the kids."
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