The former Hillsborough County elementary school teacher, Ethel Anderson, has just received a 38 year jail term this week when she was sentenced by Circuit Judge Chet Tharpe for sex offenses that she had been convicted of in September on a 12 year old boy.
Her defense attorney, Bill Knight, was reportedly “visibly flummoxed” by the sentence, according to the Tampa Bay Times, and refused to make any further comment, although he did say that the case would go to appeal at a later stage. The long sentence comes as a bit of a surprise, despite the nature of Anderson’s crime, which made national headlines earlier this year. Hillsborough County has had a history of sex offenses involving relationships between female teachers and male school students. In 2005, middle school teacher, Debra Lefrave was sentenced to house arrest for only three years after a guilty plea of admitting sex with a boy 14 years old. The plea bargain in that case apparently made all the difference to the sentence received. In 2010, Stephanie Ragusa, another teacher, was sentenced to 10 years in jail for having sex with more than one underage male student. There were other circumstances which affected Lefrave’s sentence at the time, for instance her victim was reluctant to testify against her.
It appears that Judge Tharpe may have been sending a message to the community with this particularly severe sentence.
Anderson was charged with 9 sex offenses in 2012. They stem from a relationship she cultivated with the 12 year old boy, who she was giving private tutorials to at the weekend at her own Riverview home. She had first got to know the boy when she was teaching him in first grade.
Anderson had attempted to conduct her own defense at the trial in September and had claimed in court that text messages that had been obtained from her to the boy had been used as part of an educational technique used in order to get the boy’s attention. The messages were sexually graphic in nature and were an important part of the prosecution’s evidence against the former teacher. Other evidence that was used to help convict Anderson was an apparently secret videotape of a conversation between Anderson and the boy’s mother in which she admitted that she had committed oral sex on the boy.
In court for sentencing, Anderson tried to plead with the judge for leniency. She said that her daughter would be 44 when she was let out of jail and asked the judge to consider her promising past. Anderson had been a rising star at her school before she was charged with the sex offenses. After the charges were laid, she was suspended from the school and she resigned permanently later the same year. A psychologist gave evidence at the trial to say that Anderson had been treated for bipolar disorder, but this was not convincing enough to have any effect on the sentence.
The boy that Anderson was involved with was present at the court appearance as was his mother who said that she was satisfied with the severity of the sentence. The boy’s mother said that her son’s innocence had been taken away by Anderson.
The judge was obviously not swayed by Anderson’s plea for mercy and said that she deserved the long sentence and also said that she was every parent’s “worst nightmare.”