By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Pitts had acted quickly. It wasn't until a month later, on December 13, 1977--three days after Janice's 19th birthday--that her parents addressed a letter to the Mesa school board. They mailed it to then-board member Darl Andersen, whom they knew through church. It said in part:
"At the time our daughter was an eighth-grade student at Carson Junior High and Mr. Pitts was her teacher, he took her to his home and persuaded her to engage in sexual intercourse with him. He convinced her that she should not tell her parents of this because of the consequences. . . ."
The parents urged the board to force Pitts' resignation.
"We further feel," they continued, "that our school district should not recommend Mr. Pitts for any future assignment or employment where he will be involved with young people who may be so vulnerable to him."
One week later, the school board met in special session. Minutes of the meeting say about 50 people were in attendance, including a reporter from the Mesa Tribune. It isn't known if Ralston Pitts attended the meeting.
After 45 minutes of routine business, the board went into executive session "for discussion of a personnel matter." It reconvened in public 15 minutes later and--without discussion--unanimously approved the resignation of Ralston Pitts, effective the following June 30.
Two minutes later, Darl Andersen gave the closing prayer and the meeting was adjourned.
@body:Ralston Pitts was sitting as pretty as possible after the Mesa school district swept the allegations against him under the rug.
He had escaped criminal prosecution.
His career in education was intact.
And by all accounts, Pitts never worked another day at the Mesa public schools after the December 1977 meeting. As part of his resignation deal, the board continued to issue Pitts paychecks for six months after the December meeting.
Pitts soon moved to Tucson, where he started to work on a doctorate. Less than three months after the board-sanctioned resignation, school superintendent George Smith wrote Pitts a sparkling letter of reference.
In contrast to Zaharis--who insists he hadn't known what was in the wind when he wrote his positive letter--Smith definitely knew, and admitted as much later. But he wrote the two-page letter, anyway.
"Mr. Pitts possesses an innate ability to stimulate outstanding performance on the part of those around him," Smith wrote. "I would rate him in the top 1 percent of all administrators I have worked with during my 25 years as a superintendent of schools."
Smith claimed Pitts had resigned from the Mesa public schools "for medical and professional reasons."
In an interview with New Times, Smith says, "I never presumed in 35 years to be judge and jury and to pass sentence on an employee. Ending someone's career just like that isn't the way the legal system works. You're making it sound like he was convicted of something. Ralston denied culpability. My concern always was for the child, but many times, kids are untruthful in their utterances. There was no evidence other than that letter from the parents."
In the fall of 1979, buoyed with glowing reference letters from men whose word carried weight in statewide school circles, Pitts found work as a teacher in the Tucson Unified School District. Smith tells New Times that he never knew the Tucson district hired Pitts.
"I lost track of him after Mesa for a few years, and I assumed he was just getting his doctorate as he had said," says Smith, who served for three years in the early 1980s as president of the Arizona Board of Education.
Pitts' career shot upward in the decade that followed. In 1983, he landed a job at NAU as a music professor; he became chairman of NAU's Music Department in 1986; and in 1988, the university chose him as the first director of its School of Performing Arts.
@body:Janice Johnson would telephone Ralston Pitts over the years, seemingly unable to break the bond. Pitts, she says, would agree to see her again--but only if she'd have sex with him.
In one phone conversation, Janice says, Pitts spoke of Biblical times when older men supposedly married 13-year-old girls. He referred to their long-ago "affair," telling Janice it hadn't been wrong, that society was wrong for disapproving of such things.
If she still had feelings of guilt, Pitts told her, that was her problem, not his.
Last February, she says, Pitts' normally irritable manner with her softened suddenly. He asked Janice how she was doing--that in itself was unusual--and expressed compassion for her nagging psychological and physical woes.
Janice didn't realize at the time of their February phone conversation that Ralston Pitts knew Flagstaff police were investigating him for child molesting.
@body:The pending allegations against Ralston Pitts in Flagstaff are remarkably similar to those for which he was never prosecuted in Mesa.
Prosecutors will try to prove Pitts started the seduction process of his alleged Flagstaff victim--Karen"--when she was about 7, with molestation beginning a few years later, in 1985.
As in Mesa, Pitts had become a trusted soul around children in Flagstaff. He conducted private music lessons, headed children's church choirs and occasionally invited "my kids," as he'd call them, to his house parties.