Former Helper teacher gets 120 days for sex with minor
In an emotional hearing on Monday, March 8, 7th District Court Judge Douglas B. Thomas sentenced former Helper Junior High School teacher Melissa Andreini to 120 days in the Carbon County jail for one count of unlawful sexual activity with a minor.
Andreini, 29, had previously pled guilty to the charge in January, waiving her right to trial.
The perpetrator was immediately remanded to custody and did not comment. This last hearing is the culmination of a series of events which took place during June 2009 between Aldreini and a 15-year-old pupil at the school.
Reportedly, the youth was obstensibly hired to do yard work, but intimate relations took place and the boy was paid between $1,400 and $1,800.
When the mother of the victim saw an envelope containing over $900, she confronted her son, who informed her of the situation. She then spoke to Andreini, who according to the mother, denied everything.
Andreini was eventually arrested and charged with three felony counts of unlawful sexual relations with a minor on Aug. 17, 2009. In a plea deal on Jan. 21, she admitted her guilt on one of the counts. She has since been dismissed as a teacher at the school.
In addition to the jail sentence, Andreini is to serve an additional 120 days in home confinement, 36 months of probation, pay therapy costs and restitution to the victim and his family, register as a sex offender, is not to have contact with any minor children (without the court's permission), complete sex offender treatment through an approved Dept. of Corrections provider and is not to possess or consume alcohol.
"This is obviously a very sad situation," said Thomas in imposing the sentence. "I've read a lot of letters of support and believe Miss Andreini was a wonderful teacher and involved in a lot of good things. But it is important to take into account the damage that has been done. The far-reaching impact this has had on the victim and his family."
The magistrate added that prosecution's recommendation of 180 days of total confinment was "too light," but the same amount of actual jail time was too "excessive."
"I have to balance a lot of things here," Thomas said. "This is a very serious charge, especially when she met the victim through school and her role as a teacher. This was a trusted position and the behavior was completely inappropriate."
As the judge began speaking, the victim's mother audibly gasped and covered her mouth with her hands. As Thomas went on, she seemed to recover her composure a bit.
Earlier in the proceeding, the youth's mother had wanted to pose direct questions to Andreini, but the judge ruled that inappropriate at the time. Instead, she spoke to the court concerning the case.
"This has ripped my family apart," she said between sobs. "My son was very sad when I asked him about this, he did not want me to report her. When I did, I lost the relationship with him.
"At first, my heart went out to her," she continued. "I felt very sorry and her eyes haunted me. But as things went on, I found her to be completely dishonest. I now realize how her actions devastated my family."
The victim's 18-year-old sister then spoke of how several times Andreini had provided alcohol for her and friends while in the teacher's home.
Andreini's attorney, John Green, said he was not aware of such an allegation.
Despite the family's pleadings, the judge gave the former instructor what might seem lenient, considering the maximum sentence for such a charge is five years in the Utah State Penitentiary.
And while family and friends of the convicted submitted letters and testimonies on her behalf, Thomas was a bit concerned about a report from a counselor at ISATC (Intermountain Specialized Abuse Treatment Center) which claimed that Andreini was an "unwitting participant" in this crime.
"This letter caused me concern," the judge said. "I do not believe Miss Andreini is getting adequate therapy when the therapist cannot allow her to admit her responsibility in the matter."
Green countered that Andreini has indeed admitted her guilt to him on "numerous occasions," and that the counselor's remarks were "foreign" to him.
As for district attorney Gene Strate, he and the prosecution team were fairly pleased with the outcome.
"I thought the judge did a marvelous job on doing the right thing, here," Strate said. "He had to balance a lot of things and make a difficult decision. I thought he did a good job."
Asked if the gender roles were reversed and the offender was a 29-year-old male and the victim was a 14-year-old female, Strate indicated they would have treated them equally.
"We looked really hard here and tried to discover if she had actually taught the young man. When we found out she did not, it was important in the punishment process. It's still a very serious situation, though."