Judge orders jail time in abuse case

TEACHER WAS EXPECTING PROBATION

aclark@herald-leader.comOctober 17, 2009 

In a surprise move, a Fayette County judge decided Friday against a prosecutor's recommendation of probation and said jail time would be more appropriate for a teacher who admitted to raping and molesting a 15-year-old student more than 30 years ago.

Fayette Circuit Judge James Ishmael Jr.'s decision during Roberta Blackwell Walter's sentencing prompted her attorney to request more time for his client to reconsider the guilty plea that she made earlier Friday as part of an agreement with the case's prosecutor.

Ishmael allowed Walter and her attorney, Jim Lowry, to reconsider the guilty plea, which they could withdraw in light of the judge's addition of jail time to Walter's sentence. Ishmael scheduled a hearing in the case Oct. 30.

Lowry and Smith declined to comment.

Walter pleaded guilty Friday to two charges of sexual misconduct. In exchange for her testimony earlier this year against another teacher, Jack Russell Hubbard, prosecutors agreed to reduce the charges from third-degree sodomy and third-degree rape.

The charges dated to 1978 and involved Carol Lynne Maner, then 15, and a ninth-grader, Thomas "Beau" Goodman III.

As part of the plea agreement, special prosecutor Tom Smith recommended a sentence of one year for each charge — to be served concurrently — which would be probated for two years.

Ishmael said he wanted Walter to go to jail until Jan. 1 before being eligible for probation. The nearly three months in jail would be "less than a slap on the wrist," the judge said.

"I'm not satisfied with it, but it's the best I can do under the circumstances," Ishmael said.

Walter began to shake when Ishmael announced his sentence.

During testimony in July, Walter admitted she had raped and molested Maner.

On the stand, Walter said she had lied to state prosecutors and police in the past about her behavior to protect herself and her family. She said she had been in denial.

Walter was Maner's eighth- and ninth-grade art teacher and had set herself up as a mentor and substitute mother figure when Maner's mother was diagnosed with manic-depression disorder.

But Walter testified in July that she "fell very much in love" with Maner and began a sexual relationship with her.

"I realize (now) I was the adult, and she was the child," Walter told jurors. "I should have nipped it in the bud. I knew it was wrong."

Hubbard was convicted of raping and sodomizing Maner and Goodman while Hubbard was a science teacher at Beaumont Junior High School in 1978. He was sentenced to 6½ years in prison, the maximum allowed.

Though Ishmael appreciated Walter's honesty in her testimony, the judge said he didn't understand her behavior toward her former students.

"I find this conduct beyond my wildest dreams, my wildest nightmares," Ishmael said to Walter. "I am appalled."

Afterward, Maner said she was surprised that Ishmael went against Smith's recommendation.

"I believe that he has really done his job in a stellar way and I don't envy his position," she said.

Maner said she spoke to her mother, Carolyn, on Friday morning before the sentencing. Carolyn Maner seemed defeated at the prospect that Walter would get probation, Carol Lynne Maner said.

"I believe that she will be heartened by the judge's message," she said.

Maner is still involved in a legal battle with the Fayette County Board of Education.

A Fayette Circuit Court jury awarded Maner $3.9 million in 2007, after she filed a lawsuit alleging she was sexually abused by four teachers, a guidance counselor and an assistant principal at Beaumont Junior High and Lafayette High School while she was a student in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The lawsuit said district administrators did nothing to stop the abuse.

The Kentucky Court of Appeals upheld the decision in May and, in July, denied the school district's request to reconsider. The district has asked the state Supreme Court to conduct a discretionary review of the case.

Reach Ashlee Clark at (859) 231-1443 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 1443.

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