LARGO — Michael Lander's wife, his stepdaughter and a former student testified against him in a sex crime trial on Thursday, and each painted a portrait of a master manipulator.
Lander, they said, convinced his wife it was fine to welcome a 12-year-old student to live in their house; and convinced the girl there was nothing wrong with having oral sex and intercourse with her fifth-grade teacher.
But after his wife found the girl's thigh-high stockings after a trip alone with Lander and after a series of inappropriate emails were discovered between the man and girl, Lander's facade fell apart, the witnesses said.
And this came to a head when Lander made a recorded phone call to his home. His wife, Jennifer, asked him why — while she was pregnant with their son — he had written emails to the girl about their sexual encounters.
"How dare you? In my bed? How dare you? Who do you think you are, Michael?" Jennifer Lander said on the call.
She said that on the very night she was giving birth, Lander had sex with the girl. To this, Lander offered a meek response, according to the recording, which was played in court.
"I didn't do it that night, Jennifer."
Also on that recording, Jennifer Lander asked her husband a blunt question, apparently about his guilt: "I want to know right now, yes or no? And that's all you have to say."
"Yes," Lander said. "Once."
"No," she shot back. "Not once. No, you are not going to continue to lie to me."
The reason the call was recorded was that Lander placed the call from prison, where he was incarcerated on unrelated burglary charges.
Lander formerly taught fifth grade at Schrader Elementary School in Port Richey, and lived in Pinellas County. He has been charged with four sex crimes against the former student, who was 12 and 13 at the time of the alleged crimes.
Lander, 40, is facing possible life in prison. The Tampa Bay Times isn't naming the former student because of the nature of the charges.
Also Thursday, the former student testified about how she met Lander and came to live with him. She said that at first, Lander gave her special attention in school. He gave her sticky notes with winking smiley faces that said, I like you, I love you. Next, he gave her a peck-kiss in a classroom supply closet. Later, he gave her more serious kisses in a bathroom by the teachers' lounge, she said.
After convincing her mother and his own family that he should take her into his home, Lander fondled her at his house and eventually talked her into oral sex, she said. One time, he removed her Hello Kitty pajama bottoms and they had intercourse in the master bedroom, she said. She said the sex acts continued.
When Pinellas sheriff's Sgt. Kurt Romanosky first came to talk to her after her 13th birthday, she denied anything bad had happened.
"I didn't think it was wrong," she said. "I thought we had a relationship and that I loved him, he loved me."
Later, she said, she told authorities the truth. And now, she finds the whole thing disgusting.
The trial is expected to wrap up today.