Sentencing differs for teacher-student sex crime cases

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – An Albuquerque teacher is getting probation for admitting to having sex with a 16-year old girl, but that sentence is lighter from other local teachers who’ve never been accused of touching their students, but got in trouble.

It caught KRQE News 13’s attention and we wanted to know why. Teachers in high profile sex cases aren’t going to jail, but others who have inappropriate, but lesser contact are getting prison time.

In the last decade, Albuquerque has seen more than six teachers and educators get in trouble for sexually related crimes. Some of them have made national headlines.

In 2007, a substitute teacher at Atrisco Elementary, Robert Ashley, was charged for taking hidden video footage up the skirts of second graders. In 2009, a Jimmy Carter Middle School teacher, Kristy Sanchez-Trujillo was arrested for having a sex with a 13-year old student.

In 2009, Patrick Matthews, a teacher at Volcano Vista High School, was arrested for having sex with a 16-year old girl. Then in 2010, Jacob Lawler, a teacher at Edward Gonzales Elementary was arrested for sending explicit text and photo messages to an 11-year old girl.

While each of the above mentioned teachers have all been arrested for sexual related crimes with students, the way they’ve been sentenced is very different. In some cases, it may be surprising.

Former mid-school teacher Kristy Sanchez-Trujillo and former high school teacher Patrick Matthews were both sentenced to probation after admitting to having sex with their teenage students. In addition to probation, Sanchez-Trujillo had to serve a year of house arrest. Both are now registered sex offenders as well.

However, those two teachers did not get a day in prison.

Meanwhile, two teachers who were never accused of touching kids were sentenced to prison time. They include Robert Ashley, who was sentenced in 2009, and Jacob Lawler, who was sentenced in 2013.

Ashley received one and half years prison time, while Lawler was ordered to three years in prison, up to 20-years of probation and registration as a sex offender.

When it comes to the amount of prison time, the sentences are starkly different. KRQE News 13 wanted to know why.

“There’s several dynamics in play,” said Ousama Rasheed, an Albuquerque based criminal defense lawyer.

Rasheed is the immediate past president of the New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association.

One of those factors in Matthews case was the victim. According to the District Attorney’s office, the victim opposed Matthews’ prosecution, moved out of state, and refused to cooperate in a possible trial.

In Rasheed’s opinion, harsh sentences for teachers who didn’t have sex with their students, in part, may be based how young the victims were in the cases. Those victims were between ages 7 and 11 years old.

“Children that young are going to… judges are obviously going to air on the side of over protection as opposed to under protection,” said Rasheed.

While Sanchez-Trujillo and Matthews didn’t get jail time, the two are registered sex offenders. Rasheed says that sentence is still a harsh one.

“It’s a career killer for sure, especially if you’re an educator, it’s a career killer,” said Rasheed.

In a couple other other sex-related cases involving teachers, sentencing has been harsher for a teacher who had sex with his students, compared to a teacher who was taking up-skirt photos of students.

An educational assistant at Manzano High School, Anthony Kilby was sentenced to three years in prison and ordered to register as a sex offender for 10 years. A former teacher at Lavaland Elementary, Chris Lucero was sentenced to five years of probation for using a camera mounted on his shoe to take up-skirt photos of girls as young as 10-years-old.

The Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office sent KRQE News 13 a statement about the cases on Wednesday, saying in part that each has individual factors and that it’s hard to group they all together. The full statement is as follows:

“Each case is individual and unique, and is evaluated on its own merits. While being responsive to your questions, the State must also balance the need to respect the privacy interests of the child victims. We hope you report that important balance as well, as it is a fair and important consideration.

There are substantial differences in what has been reported by the media on each of these cases, and what the actual facts are. Each case is different in age and facts, and comparing them can be misleading.

Additionally, the difference in sentences is more judge-dependent than anything else with these cases. A great deal of discretion was given to the judges, and they used it in different ways. Each case is equally damaging to the individual victims involved in its own ways, and we would never want to minimize their trauma.

There are issues we cannot discuss on the record, again, out of respect to the victims. As you know, any potential resolution has to be weighed, depending on the case’s strength, the credibility of the witnesses, the cooperation of the alleged victim, the defendant’s criminal history, and many other factors too numerous to list. Please review the below, and let me know if you have additional questions.

Regarding Lawler:
The State presented a plea of 0-12 with a cap of 9 years. The family was allowed to argue for punishment. The State laid out the facts of the case. Judge Whitaker gave the defendant a 3 year period of incarceration.

Regarding Sanchez-Trujillo:
The State set a sentencing cap of five years in the plea, and argued for the maximum sentence of five years. Judge Sheppard gave her one year of CCP and probation (not just probation, as you indicated.)

Regarding Matthews:
The 16 year old victim was not cooperative and did not want to proceed. The defendant had been on conditions of release for more than five years and had succeeded without any problems. He accepted responsibility immediately and began counseling. An evaluation was submitted to the court which indicated the defendant was at low risk to re-offend. Judge Michael Martinez accepted the plea, but denied the defense’s request for a conditional discharge.”

–Kayla Anderson, spokeswoman, New Mexico 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office

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