HOUSTON – The Stovall Middle School teacher who got pregnant by her eighth-grade student was sentenced to 10 years in prison Friday.
Judge McSpadden told Alexandria Vera this case will serve as an example to deter other teachers from crossing inappropriate boundaries.
“We want our teachers to educate our children, to keep their hands off our children, to prepare them for the future," Judge McSpadden said.
Vera was 24-years-old when she got pregnant by her 13-year-old student during a sexual relationship that lasted nine months.
Vera was initially charged with continuous sex abuse of a child and later pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of aggravated sex assault of a child.
At the sentencing hearing on Friday, the defense called a Dr. Karen Lawson to the stand, a clinical psychologist who specializes in sex offender treatment.
During her testimony Lawson explained that Vera came from a somewhat tumultuous background where she witnessed some domestic abuse and was also taken advantage of by the men she dated.
Lawson also classified Vera as “accomplished,” a person who has held a job since age 14, bought her first home at 21, put herself through college and cared for her little brother and was the fulltime caregiver of her 6-year-old daughter.
Lawson did not classify Vera as a traditional pedophile but believes she was truly in love with the student.
During the prosecution’s chance to question Lawson other darker details were revealed.
Apparently pornographic pictures of the victim and Vera were found on her cell phone, and she had allowed other students to have sex in her home.
Lawson’s testimony also revealed Vera and the victim’s father pretended they were in a relationship with each other to try to cover up the teacher/student relationship.
The victim’s family supported the couple and even spent holidays with Vera.
Court documents show it wasn’t until CPS began asking questions that Vera had the abortion.
The victim’s mother was in court on Friday to show Vera support, as were other students and their parents.
Other Stovall parents thought the sentence was fair.
“It’s good she went to jail,” said Carena Valesquez. “Because you don’t do that with a student.”
“Children must grow free, and never be abused,” said parent Nicholas Torres.
The prosecution called the whole thing “incredibly disturbing." They wanted a 30-year sentence.
Vera will be eligible for parole after five years.
Ten years is on the higher end of the cases we've seen here in Harris County. It's not the first time it has happened, but there's certainly a wide range of sentences for a crime that's on the rise.
"It's very strong, it's a very good first step,” said Terry Abbott, former Chief of Staff at the U.S. Department of Education on Friday.
S how can the former Aldine I.S.D. teacher get 10 years in jail for having sex with an 8th grader and other teachers walk away with probation?
"A teacher who is convicted of sexually assaulting a student in one county can get probation while in another jurisdiction they get five or six years,” said Abbott.
He says it's because Texas has no minimum sentence. "Texas has more than twice as many of these cases as any other state,” said Abbott.
According to the Texas Education Agency, there were 222 similar cases just last year.
In Alief I.S.D. former Elsik High teacher Jeffrey Guzman was sentenced to 10 years in prison for an inappropriate relationship with a student, but in a separate case, former Spring teacher Jessica Lynne Kelley got 2 years behind bars.
"Historically speaking females seem to be getting lenient treatment,” said Paul Morgan, an attorney.
Morgan says their cases tend to be less common, but this time in Vera's case the judge wanted to send a message.
"He basically wanted teachers in the Harris County community to know that if you engage in sexual acts with a minor, you’re going to receive a severe sentence,” said Morgan.
New Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg says sex crimes cases like these will be one of her top priorities. She plans to assign senior prosecutors to these cases and give them even more specialized training.