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Jury selection begins for Northland bus driver accused of sex assault

James faces a guideline sentence of between 7½ years and nine years in prison if convicted.

Jury selection began Tuesday in the trial of a former North Shore Community School bus driver accused of sexually assaulting five preteen girls on his bus between December 2009 and April 2010.

Jimmy Jerome James, 63, of Two Harbors is charged in St. Louis County District Court with five counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct for allegedly molesting five students between the ages of 6 and 10. He's been free on $100,000 bond.

The allegations were made in March and April of last year. The alleged victims were interviewed at the First Witness Child Abuse Resource Center in Duluth. The complaint says one girl told an interviewer that the bus driver let kids sit on his lap so they could open the bus door. She said James touched her in a way that made her feel sick and that she knew several other girls who were touched in the same way. She provided the names of six female students.

Jurors were asked to fill out a short questionnaire that asked if they or anyone they knew had been a victim of sexual assault or had been accused of committing it. Those who answered affirmatively were questioned individually by Judge David Johnson, Assistant St. Louis County Attorney Nathaniel Stumme and Cloquet defense attorney Joanna Wiegert.

Two prospective jurors were excused by the court late Tuesday when they suggested they couldn't be fair to someone accused of sexual assault. Johnson pointed out to them that the defendant enters the trial under the presumption of innocence.

One prospective juror said he couldn't believe a child would make up a story of sexual assault. The second prospective juror said he believes that someone charged with such a crime had somehow "stepped over the line somewhere."

"I'm biased, to be honest," he said.

James had been a full-time employee of the Lake Superior school district for 38 years and was head janitor at Two Harbors High School. He worked part time as a school bus driver. North Shore Community School is within the Lake Superior school district but is separate. They shared bus services. James retired from the school district last year.

James has no prior criminal record. He faces a guideline sentence of 7½ to nine years in prison if convicted.

The prospective jury panel will be questioned today in a group setting as the selection process continues.