Stephanie Peterson sentenced: Florida, New Smyrna Beach middle school teacher who had sex with 14 year old boy receives light jail term after claims her victim was a willing participant.
Stephanie Peterson‘s jail term comes after the 27 year old eight grade educator pled guilty in October to one felony count of lewd or lascivious battery sex act with a child and one felony count of transmission of harmful material to minors by electronic means.
Prior to Wednesday’s sentencing, Peterson had been expected to receive 5-10 years jail, while her lawyers claimed the woman deserved a lighter sentence because her victim was a ‘willing participant’ who sought physical gratification with the educator- despite being below the age of consent.
Peterson was sentenced to 36 months for the battery sex act and to time served for transmission of harmful material, followed by two years of house arrest and five years of sex offender probation.
She must avoid contact all with minors, with Seventh Judicial Circuit Court Judge Paul Zambrano making an exception for her brother’s two children.
Stephanie Peterson sentenced: Teacher’s family cite mental health issues.
The verdict came after the court heard emotional victim impact statements from the boy’s family, and testimony from Peterson’s mother, brother and step-father who sited the educator’s recently diagnosed bipolar disorder– while begging for leniency.
The former science teacher was arrested in February after the 14-year-old told his parents about their relationship.
He confessed to his parents that Peterson would pick him up from their home at 11pm and that they often spent hours together at her home while her firefighter husband was at work.
The teen claimed he had sex with Peterson in her house and car as well as a barn behind his own house from November 2017 to January 2018.
Two dozen relatives and friends showed up in court to support Peterson.
Her mother, elementary school teacher Johnna Peterson, took the stand in her daughter’s defense, describing her as a caring person who excelled academically both in high school and college, and who always went out of the way to help others.
‘She puts everybody first,’ the predator’s mother said.
The mother said that from the time of her arrest, Peterson has been receiving mental health treatment and taking part in a support group for people suffering from a bipolar disorder.
Peterson’s adoptive father, attorney Phil Peterson, and her older brother, Justin, both appeared as character witnesses, telling the court about her fraught mental health history and her profound remorse for her actions.
Stephanie Peterson sentenced: Victims mother describes a forever damaged boy.
The court also heard from the victim’s grandmother, who accused Peterson of taking advantage of her only grandchild at a time when he was most vulnerable because of his mother’s illness.
The child’s mother also delivered a victim impact statement, describing the onerous psychological effects her son enduring.
‘I don’t think I will ever be able to put into words the devastation and sadness he has gone through,’ the boy’s mother said. ‘He is no longer the vibrant, funny, light-hearted child. He is now untrustworthy of new people, and even old friends.’
The mother described her son’s bouts of uncontrollable rage and crying, which has led to the teen boy now requiring counseling.
The incident according to the victim’s family also led to the boy also struggling making new friends in high school, where the mother said he has been subjected to cruel taunts from bullies who labelled him a ‘teacher f***er.’
‘My child is gone,’ the mother said through tears.
When given a chance to speak in her own defense, Peterson offered a prepared statement, showing little emotion during the reading, except when talking about her failed suicide attempts.
‘Every day I wish I could scream, “I’m sorry,”’ she said. ‘There are not enough words to describe the amount of remorse I feel for what had taken place.’
She added: ‘sorry doesn’t even begin to sum up my emotions. I will continue to be sorry until the day I die.’
Stephanie Peterson sentenced: She knew what she was doing claim prosecutors.
Peterson’s defense argued during Wednesday’s hearing that at the time of her trysts with the underage victim, she was in a manic state and self-medicating her mental health condition with alcohol, marijuana and cocaine after being prescribed the wrong drug.
The former teacher’s lawyer, Aaron Delgado, appealed to the judge to consider sentencing his client to probation and community service instead of prison time, citing mitigating circumstances in Peterson’s life related to her medical history and her spotless record.
The prosecution countered by arguing that Peterson should have known better than to have sex with a 14-year-old boy and take illegal narcotics.
‘She knew what she was doing. She knew what she was doing is wrong,’ the prosecutor stated, asking the judge not to depart from the sentencing guidelines.
‘Stephanie Peterson is not a victim. Stephanie Peterson is here because of her actions, and actions have consequences,’ the prosecutor added.
During sentencing, the victim’s mother demanded Peterson be sentenced to the full term possible term of 10 years.
Before delivering the sentence, Judge Zambrano addressed Peterson directly, saying that she did nothing to help her mental illness by turning to alcohol and drugs, and argued that taking her own line was not the solution.
‘You’re actions have life-long consequences to you and to this child for the rest of his life,’ he said. ‘That memory will never be taken from him.’
In the aftermath of the sentencing, commentators on social media wondered whether the female teacher would have received a more stern sentencing had the genders been reversed- while others wondered what compelled the female educator to so freely abuse her position of power, trust and authority to subjugate her teen male victim?