Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Erie, PA teacher pleads guilty to sexually abusing 16 year old student

(Original Post 9-6-08)

Erica Baker, a 24 year old Corry, PA teacher, pled guilty to a count of corruption of a minor in a Erie, PA court on September 3, which capped the maximum sentence at 5 years and a $10,000 fine, led to the dropping of 2 additional counts of corruption of a minor, and led to the permanent surrenDer of the former student teacher’s teaching license.

The victim and Baker met last year when Baker was a student teacher at Strong Vincent High School. They became friends, and when the school year ended, sexual partners. Baker was hired as a substitute teacher at Pfeiffer-Burleigh Elementary School in August, but the girl and baker were still seeing each other.

They drove to a campground near Presque Isle State Park, where the sexual contact occurred (three times, according to police, during August and September). She was caught in November last year and admitted to the allegations against her on November 9, and was arrested November 13. Baker was suspended without pay from her substitute position 3 days before the formal arrest.

The next day, according to the Erie School District’s lawyer Richard Perhacs, they were informed of the charges.

"The principal reason why she is suspended is the district does not have any access to the information that has apparently caused her to be arrested. We don't have cause to terminate the substitute contract early, but it's the district's feeling that, with the arrest and the public charge against this person, it's inappropriate for her to work. We can't put her in a classroom with an accusation like this over her head."

Perhacs said intimate encounters between students and teachers are on the rise, even though many of the incidents do not rise to the level of criminal activity. However, many still result in faculty terminations.

"In recent years, these cases have come to light primarily because the culture has changed, and I think people, particularly young people, affected by these types of behaviors, have become a lot more likely to come forward and tell people about them and report them.”

Sentencing is scheduled for October 23.

(Update 11-5-08)

Baker was sentenced to between 3 and 12 months in prison with 4 years of probation to follow for the sexual encounters she had with her student on Thursday, October 30. Erie County Judge John Garhart dismissed a plea deal which would have lead to a probation only sentence, stating “If a teacher gets involved with a student, jail time will be served.” His reason for the jail sentence was because “what she did was with a protected class of person – a minor.”

Baker was found to be in a position of authority when she had sex with her victim in a campground near Presque Isle State Park, while Charbel Latour, Baker’s lawyer, tried to argue that Baker was not her teacher at the time of the encounters. “She is a genuine person. She made a mistake. She allowed her emotions to get the better of her with a person who was younger than 18.”

The prosecutor, the victim’s mother, and Judge Garhart stated that the grooming started while Baker taught the victim. The mother said “she was writing my daughter letters while she was teaching her class.” After Judge Garhart heard arguments from both sides, and the plea deal struck, which included teacher license forfeiture, he said that the

“The court responsibility is to speak to a larger audience than the victim. The commonwealth and the defense are entitled to reach any agreement they want. In the end, the decision is mine.”

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