Friday 19 October 2018

Florida middle school teacher, 27, pleads guilty to sending nude photos and having sex with her 14-year-old student and will face a minimum of five years in prison

A former New Smyrna Beach Middle School teacher will face between five and 10 years in prison after pleading guilty Tuesday to having sex with a 14-year-old student and sending him lewd pictures.
Stephanie Peterson, 27, of New Smyrna Beach, entered a guilty plea as part of a plea deal to one count of lewd or lascivious battery sex act with a child, a second-degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. She also entered a guilty plea to one count of transmission of harmful material to minors by electronic means, a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison.
Prosecutors dropped a second count of lewd or lascivious battery sex act with a child as part of the plea deal.
Peterson will face a minimum of five years and a maximum of 10 years in prison when she is sentenced by Circuit Judge Raul Zambrano. A sentencing date has not been set but the judge ordered a pre-sentence investigation, which is a customary step that provides information about the the defendant to help the judge reach a sentencing decision.
One of Peterson’s defense attorneys, William Hathaway, said the defense would argue that the judge should give her less than the five years in prison, known as a downward departure from the minimum sentence.
Peterson had planned to enter no contest pleas but Zambrano said he did not accept those in sex cases.
“The component of any sentence is treatment, and a component of treatment is admitting that you did what you did, and if you plead no contest here they go to treatment and they don’t want to admit anything,” Zambrano said.
Peterson then briefly talked to Hathaway and she changed her plea.
She stood before the judge and spoke clearly and without emotion.
When Zambrano asked for her plea to each of the two charges, Peterson replied without hesitation “guilty.”
The judge asked her routine questions, such as her age and her educational level, which she said was a bachelor’s degree.
When Zambrano asked her if she was under the care of a psychiatrist, psychologist or taking any psychotropic medication, she answered, “Yes sir.”
She said she had taken her medication as prescribed but did not specify what.
“Do you have a clear understanding of what’s happening here?” Zambrano asked.
“Yes, sir,” Peterson replied.
Zambrano asked her to tell him in her own words what she was doing.
“Uh, pleading guilty to those two counts,” Peterson said.
Zambrano also warned her that when she is sentenced she could be declared a sex offender and required to register.
“Yes,” she replied.
Bryan Shorstein, a spokesman for the 7th Circuit State Attorney’s Office, wrote in an email that she would be listed as a sex offender.
Peterson declined to comment to media outside the courtroom. She was accompanied by several people, including her father, a New Smyrna Beach attorney.
Peterson’s 14-year-old victim was not in court but some of his family members were. They declined comment as they waited for an elevator with the prosecutor.
The charges against Peterson stem from her picking up the eighth-grader from his home late at night, deputies said, to have sex with him in her house and her car, as well as in a barn behind the student’s house between Nov. 1, 2017 and Jan. 31, 2018, court documents state.
Volusia County sheriff’s deputies arrested Peterson on Feb. 28.
Records released this month by the State Attorneys Office include Snapchat messages which appear to show Peterson panicking when she learns that the mother of the 14-year-old she is accused of having sex with was going to police, the sheriff’s report states.
“So she’s planning on doing something with it,” wrote Peterson to the student.
“I hate you” Peterson said
“So much” Peterson added.
Then Peterson wrote: “Pleas tell her it was the worst decision of my life and I know it was and idk where my brain was but that I somehow fell in love with you briefly and idk why and I’ll never be the same person because of it.”
She asks: “Should I call her?!??!”
Then she pleads: “Delete everything.”

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