Former boyfriend details relationship; call to attorney sets up testimony in Helms, Mendiola trial

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Holly Fesperman Lee

Salisbury Post

One of Laurie Mendiola’s former boyfriends admitted Friday that he lied during an earlier deposition and didn’t tell all he knew about Mendiola’s relationship with former Principal Tony Helms.

While the jury was out of the courtroom, Todd Paris, Helms’ attorney, told the judge he wasn’t planning on calling Tom Gillespie as a witness, but Gillespie called him before court Friday morning and offered additional information.

When Mendiola heard about the call, she turned around in her chair and stared at Gillespie, who was sitting in the courtroom at the time.

Gillespie and Mendiola lived together while they were both teachers at Salisbury High School.

Mendiola has sued Helms, former West Middle School principal, and the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education, saying Helms forced her into a sexual relationship with him and school officials didn’t investigate. Friday’s court activity completed a week of testimony.

When jurors were seated after a break, Gillespie took the witness stand and confirmed he had called Paris around 9 a.m. Friday.

When Paris asked Gillespie what he wanted to say, he replied that in his deposition, “I wasn’t 100 percent honest with what I said.”

Gillespie said he and Mendiola were friends, and he visited her occasionally after she became involved with Helms.

“She told me that there was a relationship,” he said.

Mendiola characterized that relationship as mutual, Gillespie said.

She also told Gillespie that she and Helms had plans to be together at an out-of-town conference, but they had to be discreet because other people there may know them.

Helms testified Thursday that, early in their relationship, Mendiola stayed overnight with him in Chapel Hill while he was attending a conference for principals.

Mendiola told Gillespie that Helms came to her apartment regularly in the morning.

“She told me … that she did love him,” and they would be married after Helms’ wife passed, Gillespie said.

Paris asked Gillespie when he first saw Helms.

He said he had never actually seen him before the relationship with Mendiola began, but “she showed me a picture of him.”

Mendiola had the picture framed in her apartment and said, “This is him. This is Tony,” Gillespie testified.

Paris asked Gillespie when he last spoke with Mendiola.

During the court’s lunch break Friday, he replied. Gillespie said he was eating at a local barbecue restaurant with another man when Mendiola came in, he said.

Mendiola walked to his table and asked him, “What are you doing?” or “What do you think you’re doing?”

The man with him asked him if he wanted to speak with Mendiola or just eat lunch.

He replied that he’d rather just eat lunch.

During his cross examination, B. Ervin Brown, Mendiola’s attorney, asked Gillespie whom he was eating with.

When Gillespie said he didn’t know, Brown asked if he was James Hoffman, an associate of Helms’ attorney.

He said he thought so, but he hadn’t met the man previously.

Gillespie said Hoffman offered to buy his lunch, so he agreed.

When Brown asked Gillespie if he usually ate with strangers, he replied, “If they’re buying, usually.”

“At one point, were you madly in love with Ms. Mendiola?” Brown asked.

“Yes,” Gillespie replied.

He said the two bought a house together but split up when Mendiola decided she didn’t feel right about living together with her daughter in their home.

She told him they must get married or break up, he said.

Mendiola and her daughter moved out of the house, Gillespie said.

Brown pointed out several answers in Gillespie’s earlier deposition that were different from his testimony in the courtroom.

Gillespie admitted he lied during the deposition.

Brown asked why.

He replied that he had leftover feelings from his relationship with Mendiola, had just started a new job and was trying to distance himself from the situation. Mendiola also told him the case would likely be settled out of court, he said.

Gillespie now teaches masonry classes at East Rowan High School.

Brown asked him if he remembered reading in the newspaper about Salisbury High School Assistant Principal Chris Boylan’s testimony.

Boylan testified earlier in the trial that Mendiola approached him repeatedly for a date. When Boylan asked about Mendiola living with Gillespie, she admitted she was living with him but added, “There is no love there,” Boylan testified.

Gillespie said he did recall reading that.

Paris objected to Brown’s newspaper reference, telling Judge Kimberly Taylor he was uneasy about bringing the media into the trial.

Taylor said she would allow the question but told Brown not to ask anymore questions about media coverage.

Brown asked Gillespie if at some point in the relationship, Mendiola said something about Helms forcing her to have sex.

“Yes,” he answered.

Ken Soo, school board attorney, followed up by asking Gillespie when Mendiola first talked about unwanted contact from Helms.

Gillespie testified that this was around the time Mendiola became pregnant.

Gillespie confirmed he had seen Helms at Mendiola’s home and did not see him mistreat her.

At some point, she also told him that Helms was the father of her child, Gillespie said.

Mendiola told him “she wasn’t 100 percent sure” Helms was the father of her child “but she thought that he was,” Gillespie testified.

Soo also asked when Gillespie and Mendiola’s physical relationship ended. When she moved out of the house, he said.

Gillespie confirmed the two did have sex after she moved out — though briefly — and after she had begun dating Helms.

After Soo asked Gillespie if he ever thought he could be the father of Mendiola’s baby, he replied, “No. Never.”

Contact Holly Lee at 704-797-7683 or