NEPHI Her punishment is a year in jail and three years on probation for having sex with several 16- and 17-year-old boys, but there is nothing that 38-year-old Leisa Ward can do to take back what those boys now know.
"She created a culture or a society with these young men where she was the core of it her and her sexual favors," said Deputy Juab County Attorney AnnMarie Howard. "I don't believe we have seen the full impact of that yet."
Ward, a mother of five from Nephi, was sentenced Tuesday morning in 4th District Court in Juab County on 11 counts of unlawful sexual conduct with five 16- or 17-year-old males.
The sexual relationships began in April 2007 with one victim and expanded to include four more teens in October and November. During a review at the Utah State Prison, Ward revealed three more victims. Additional charges were not filed however, due to a plea agreement.
Nephi police discovered the relationships by investigating rumors that turned out to be true.
"Your actions distorted their perception of reality, their perception of sexual conduct," 4th District Judge Donald Eyre told Ward. "(This) will affect (the victims) for the rest of their lives."
He said he hopes the boys get counseling, and ordered that Ward pay for it. He also reminded Ward that if she messed up on her three years of probation, she would be sent to prison on what could be five consecutive third-degree felonies, meaning a potential of 25 years.
One of the boys' mothers said she didn't want Ward on the street and became emotional as she talked about her son. The Deseret News doesn't name victims of sexual abuse.
"My son is going to hurt in the long run, be out searching for things that she taught him, things that (are) not even valid in a marriage," the mother said. After leaving the hearing, the mother called the sentence a slap on the wrist.
After a 79-day diagnostic review at the prison, Adult Probation and Parole recommended a prison sentence because Ward seemed to be shirking responsibility.
"Every report we have, we had a little bit different story about the involvement," said Belle Brough, supervisor of the AP&P diagnostic unit. "We felt like she never took full responsibility."
Other concerns were the number of victims, and the grooming behavior.
"A sex offender will typically groom victims until they're ready," Brough said. "Flirtations, text messaging, sending pictures of her body ... grooming these kids until a point that they felt comfortable enough to ask her for sexual intercourse."
Defense attorney Mike Esplin said Ward "has taken full responsibility for all the offenses to which she has entered pleas of guilty."
He said perhaps officers saw shirking behavior because Ward disclosed all the actions but didn't take responsibility for those that were dismissed or ones she said were not consensual on her part.
He said Ward had sought out counseling on her own in an attempt to deal with her "attention-seeking behavior" and try to understand why she acted out this way, Esplin said.
"I'd like to find some way to make right the wrongs I've done, the sorrow and pain I've caused upon these boys and their families," Ward told the judge. "I've spent the last several months seeing (my) thinking errors and how to change them."
Ward sobbed as she listened to her husband, Bruce Ward, ask the judge for probation.
"I understand what she's done, probably better than anybody else here," Ward said. "My kids and I have suffered just like a lot of other people have. But I believe there's a chance for us. Even if it's a little chance, it's worth the risk."
He said he knows he will be criticized for choosing to stay with and support his wife, but he said he felt it is the right thing to do. He doesn't excuse her behavior but said he has seen a change of attitude through her daily letters."It's been the most difficult time that me and my kids have ever gone through," Bruce Ward told the judge. "They ask me questions, and I can't answer them. They want to know how and why and I just can't answer them. I think we can answer all those questions together ... if you'll allow it."
E-mail: [email protected]