WEST JORDAN — A former Riverton High School teacher who had a relationship with a student at the school pleaded guilty Friday to reduced misdemeanor charges.
Courtney Louise Jarrell, 23, had been charged with object rape, a first-degree felony, and forcible sexual abuse, a second-degree felony. But as part of a plea agreement, she pleaded guilty to three reduced counts of sexual battery, a class A misdemeanor. She also agreed to have her teaching license revoked.
The victim testified in August that she met Jarrell, who was a basketball coach at the school, at an open gym for potential basketball players. She didn't end up on Jarrell's team, but said the two had a player-coach relationship and she frequented Jarrell's classroom. She said Jarrell wrote her a note conveying that she had feelings for the then-17-year-old and that the two exchanged phone numbers.
She testified that she later went to Jarrell's apartment and said their contact eventually escalated to sex.
The question of whether Jarrell held a position of special trust over the student played a part in the plea bargain.
"We've always felt strongly that we were willing to push this where it needed to go, but considering the alleged victim, the family, the nuances to the State v. Watkins case, we reached the resolution that we did," Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said Monday.
The Utah Supreme Court ruled in the State v. Watkins case that it must be shown that a person in a position of special trust used that position to "exercise undue influence." Jarrell's victim testified in August that while Jarrell was a teacher and basketball coach at the high school when their relationship began, Jarrell was not her teacher or coach.
Gill said the fact that the two were connected "tangentially" changed the case under Watkins.
Defense attorney Ken Brown said the plea agreement was an acknowledgment that Jarrell hadn't used her position as a teacher and coach to start and perpetuate the relationship.
"Watkins is an important case and a good case and we believe it created a defense for Courtney," Brown said. "(The plea) sort of recognized that she didn't abuse her position of trust. From my perspective, these two people were in love — she wasn't just abusing her position of trust for sexual favors."
Gill said prosecutors felt the case was serious in that it involved an adult and a minor, but that there were evidentiary issues and the opinion of the victim and her family to consider.
"The victim and her parents wanted the case to be resolved," Gill said. "Their concern wasn't whether the defendant should go to jail. They didn't want her life to be ruined, but they wanted her to not be able to teach again."
He said the revocation of Jarrell's Utah teaching license, which will also be entered into a national database, addressed that concern.
Brown said losing that part of her career was difficult for Jarrell, but they felt the resolution was a good one. It meant avoiding the possibility of a felony conviction at trial and a conviction on misdemeanor charges that doesn't require her to register as a sex offender.
"It's a real good resolution from my perspective," Brown said. "When (prosecutors) are going to drop down to misdemeanors that are non-registerable, then it makes it something that you have to do. It's the right thing to do, really."
Sentencing is scheduled for April 8. Brown said prosecutors have agreed not to request any jail time.
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