A former Redlands high school teacher convicted of having sex with three of her students received a one-year jail sentence Wednesday despite objections from a victim who fathered her child.
Laura Elizabeth Whitehurst, 28, was sentenced after plea bargaining with prosecutors who saw her 41 felony charges reduced to six.
She pleaded guilty July 31 to engaging in sex acts with three boys. She had a baby with one of the boys this summer. She also pleaded guilty to four counts of unlawful sexual intercourse and two of oral copulation of a person under 18. She had faced up to 29 years in prison.
The father of Whitehurst's child, who was 16 at the time, asked Judge Arthur Harrison to reject the deal, saying he had been subject to manipulation and countless sexual assaults.
"Physically, I feel sick to my stomach thinking about the manipulation I was subjected to," said the teen father of her child. "Physically sick that I was not the only victim. Physically sick that I am one of the very few here today putting a voice and face to the destruction Ms. Whitehurst has caused.
"And physically sick that Ms. Whitehurst is facing minimal consequences for her stomach-turning violations of me and other boys," he continued.
He said Whitehurst gave him alcohol and told him it was a "miracle pregnancy" because she did not believe she could get pregnant. She even gave him a Bible on his 17th birthday and would take him to church, he said.
"I am sure that a male teacher who had sexual relationships with at least three of his students, varying in age from 14 to 17, one of which resulted in pregnancy, would be condemned in the public eye and similarly in this court," the teen stated. "I do not know what justice is in this matter, but I do know that it is not the current plea agreement."
But the judge, despite saying Whitehurst "grossly violated her duty as a teacher," allowed the plea to stand and sentenced her to a year in jail and five years' probation.
He warned her that she would spend more than six years in prison if she violated any terms of her probation.
The boy's mother said the punishment did not fit the crime. Heather Cullen, an attorney for the family, said prosecutors never explained to her young client that he could object to such a plea.
"It is a minimum sentence, an outrage ... our client was really upset after the hearing," Cullen said.
Cullen said the teen father and his family will now turn to the civil courts to get the teacher and district to be held responsible.
The boy who fathered Whitehurst's baby said the relationship lasted more than a year. Redlands detectives had the boy call the AP English teacher and listened in so they could gather evidence that she had sex with the minor repeatedly.
Later, during questioning by detectives, Whitehurst admitted having sex with the boy numerous times, police said. She told investigators they began having sex at her apartment in 2012 after a trip to Disneyland.
The sexual relationship continued after she became pregnant in September 2012, and the boy was present when she gave birth to the child on June 18, according to the search warrant.
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 probation, San Bernardino County Deputy Dist. Atty. Melissa Rodriguez said.
Legal experts say far longer sentences are typically handed out for educators convicted of sex crimes with students. Dmitry Gorin, a former Los Angeles 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.
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."
Whitehurst resigned from her job earlier this month.