A judge on Thursday sentenced former Tenaya Middle School teacher Justine Karen Nelson to a year in jail for orally copulating an eighth-grade student in her classroom.
Judge Kristi Culver Kapetan also sentenced the 33 year-old Nelson to four years formal probation, and she will have to register as a sex offender for life.
“Parents entrust their children to teachers to guide them,” Kapetan said. “Not to prey on them and corrupt them.”
Nelson was facing a maximum of three years in prison for the crimes, that happened from March to May 2016 when the boy was a student. During interviews with police, Nelson even joked to detectives about “hooking up with a 14-year-old.”
Kapetan said it was clear to her that Nelson was well aware of the line she was crossing when she began her relationship with the victim.
“Initially the victim was seeking support, wanting to share basketball scores, and looking for validation,” Kapetan said. “She responded with sexy pictures, talk of partying and complaining about her marriage.”
Prosecutor Liz Owen said Nelson’s conduct as a teacher was shameful. During the trial, Owen showed the jury explicit text messages and nude photos that Nelson sent to the 14-year-old victim. Owen criticized Nelson’s argument that she simply made poor choices in creating boundaries with her students.
“A school teacher who has poor boundaries may let the kids run wild in her class,” she said. “But a school teacher who orally copulates a student is a sex offender.”
Nelson’s attorney Roger Nuttall was hoping for probation with no jail time. During Thursday’s sentencing, Nuttall said Nelson was dealing with a sexually aggressive teenager who manipulated and pressured her into giving him oral sex.
“But for this one transgression, she was living a wonderful life with her child,” he said.
Nuttall said Nelson has already paid the price for her crime, saying she has been publicly humiliated and will have to register as a sex offender, meaning she can’t be a public school teacher.
“She needs to move on,” he said. “She needs to be allowed to show society that she regrets what she did.”
Nelson read a short statement in court, saying she accepted responsibility and was sorry.
“I don’t blame him,” she said of the victim. “I am sorry for what happened and I apologize to everyone, my family, the students who looked up to me, my husband and everyone involved. I am very sorry.”
Nelson was convicted by a jury in April on the oral copulation charge, but found not guilty of the more serious charge of felony lewd or lascivious acts with a minor. Had she been convicted of that charge, she would have faced a mandatory prison term of up to eight years.