Oprah Winfrey


The case may not be closed, but the trial is going to be.

"Tiny" Virginia Makopo, the dormitory matron at Oprah Winfrey's Leadership Academy for Girls accused of abusing six students and a fellow dorm matron during a four-month period, went on trial today in Johannesburg.

Makopo, alternately pegged as both 27 and 28 years old, pleaded not guilty to 14 charges of indecent assault, common assault, verbal abuse, soliciting a minor to perform indecent acts and criminal injury.

After a court official read out each of the charges Makopo faced, the former matron, who spoke through an interpreter, told the court, "I plead not guilty."

Judge Thelma Simpson wasted no time in granting a prosecution request to close the proceedings to the public and further protected the privacy of the schoolgirls by allowing them to testify via closed-circuit TV to prevent them from coming face-to-face with their alleged abuser.

To prepare for their testimony, the court's windows were covered with brown paper and the passage to the courtroom was blocked to prevent the girls, all minors, from being seen or otherwise identified.

Prosecuting attorney Etienne Venter described the group of girls as "very scared and very, very emotional" going into the trial.

"The reason is that the children are scared to be seen."

A lawyer for Winfrey, Elizabeth Wore, was allowed to remain in court to hear the evidence.

The trial, taking place at Sebokeng Magistrate Court, is expected to run through this Friday.

Makopo is accused of victimizing six students, ages 13 to 15, and shoving a 23-year-old fellow dorm matron.

Among other allegations, she allegedly got into bed with a 14-year-old, kissed and fondled a 13-year-old, told two 13-year-olds to kiss, rubbed custard into the hair of a 14-year-old after slapping her and pulling her hair, called a 13-year-old a prostitute and pushed a 13-year-old against a wall and pressed her thumbs against the girl's windpipe.

Should she be found guilty of all charges, she faces a minimum sentence of 10 years in jail.

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