A plea deal by the San Bernardino County district attorney that gave a one year jail sentence to an ex-Redlands high school teacher convicted of sex acts with three boys is a betrayal of the victims and would never occur with a male predator, an attorney for one of the victims said Wednesday.
Laura Elizabeth Whitehurst, 28, who gave birth to a child by one of the boys this summer, had faced 41 felony counts of sex crimes with three boys she taught.
With the plea deal, she admitted guilt to six counts -- four for unlawful sexual intercourse and two for oral copulation of a person under 18.
"This is a slap in the face to the victims," said attorney Heather Cullen, whose law firm represents the family of the boy who fathered a child with Whitehurst.
"This is a very short sentence for such crimes," Cullen said. "It's shocking anyone would face so little time for abusing minors. This is definitely being treated differently because they are boys and she is a woman."
Cullen said her client and his family were aware a plea deal might be struck, but never thought it would be so generous.
In addition to jail, Whitehurst must serve five years’ probation, undergo counseling and register as a sex offender for life. She will serve her time in county jail but could be sent to state prison if she violates the terms of her parole, said San Bernardino County Deputy Dist. Atty. Melissa Rodriguez.
Rodriguez cautioned that the goal of the criminal justice system "is both justice and rehabilitation." She said the victims wanted to move on with their lives and the case resolution allows that.
Legal experts say far longer sentences are typically handed out for educators convicted of sex crimes with students. Dmitry Gorin, a former L.A. County sex crimes prosecutor and defense attorney, said two years or more in prison is typical.
But, he added, prosecutors may have considered mitigating information about her background, mental health and the victims' positions.
Cullen said her client's family will pursue other avenues, including civil litigation, to ensure such "injustice doesn't happen to other children in Redlands."
Whitehurst was arrested July 1 on suspicion of having sex repeatedly with a student from Citrus Valley High School. She gave birth in June to a child fathered by the now-17-year-old student, who was present at the birth. The boy's mother complained to school officials.
The case has raised questions about when Redlands school officials first suspected the misconduct by the teacher and how the case was handled.
The district superintendent denied an allegation in the police search warrant that school officials failed to immediately report their knowledge of a sexual relationship between a student and a teacher that resulted in a baby.
The search warrant alleges the district began investigating the accusation six weeks before reporting it July 1 and did not immediately notify Redlands police or social services, as required by law.
After Whitehurst's arrest, two other former students came forward, saying they also had sex with the teacher during her six-year tenure with the Redlands Unified School District.
Whitehurst resigned from her job earlier this month.During a call recorded by police, Whitehurst allegedly admitted to the "ongoing sexual relationship, the birth of the child and [the boy] being the father of the child," according to the July 3 search warrant.
She later told investigators they began having sex at her apartment in 2012.
Whitehurst joined the Redlands Unified School District six years ago as an English teacher at Redlands High and allegedly began sexual relationships with two boys, one who was 14, authorities say. She was charged with sex crimes involving both those boys, who are now adults.
Whitehurst's attorney James Gass described his client as "a clean-cut American girl sitting in jail, so she's having a hard time. But she will be OK."