BY BRYNA ZUMER, firstname.lastname@example.org
11:28 AM EDT, September 17, 2013
A former Harford County high school employee who pleaded guilty last spring to having sex with a student was sentenced Monday to a five-year jail term, with all but one year suspended.
Amanda Kay Miller, 36, of the 4500 block of Flintville Road in Whiteford, apologized for the incident, in which she had sex with the 15-year-old boy, calling it "a mistake" and "a lapse in judgment." Miller will serve most of her sentence on home detention and will have to register as a sex offender under terms of the sentence handed down by retired Harford Circuit Judge Maurice Baldwin.
Miller, who had been a program inclusion helper at North Harford High School since January 2012, had been communicating with the boy outside of school since December 2012, according to a statement released by the Harford County Sheriff's Office when she was charged in February with the one count of sex abuse of a minor and two counts of a third-degree sex offense.
Miller pleaded guilty to one count of a third-degree sex offense on May 20, and the other two charges were not prosecuted, according to court records.
During Monday's sentencing hearing, Christopher Tabone, an assistant state's attorney said Miller and her victim had exchanged more than 500 texts, as well as explicit photographs of each other.
"This is a repeated pattern of conduct," Tabone said, adding the videos and texts were nevertheless deleted.
He said Miller had been expected to be in a position of authority.
"You don't expect to send your kid off to school and expect him to tell you he is having sex with his teacher," Tabone said.
As an inclusion helper, Miller worked in the victim's classroom, according to charging documents. An inclusion helper provides support to the classroom teacher and to students, such as preparing instructional materials under the teacher's direction and charting data on student performance, according to a Harford County Public Schools spokesperson.
Psychological impairment claimed
Miller's lawyer, Leonard Shapiro, argued she has a psychological impairment, was deeply remorseful about the situation and is not a predator who seeks children out or would commit such an act again.
He called several witnesses, including clinical and forensic psychologist John R. Lion, who said he diagnosed Miller with a dissociative disorder that shows itself as "an impairment of consciousness during the committing of an act."
"These people space out; they don't recall exactly what they do," Lion said, adding that personality tests revealed "immaturity and some childlike features" in her character.
"I never saw her as a sadistic, exploitative woman who was not a threat to society. Obviously she did make a serious error in judgment," said Lion, who also said he believes her disorder is treatable with more therapy.
"It's a bizarre series of e-mails in which she is trying to be helpful to this boy in a motherly-like way," he said.
Three longtime friends of Miller's testified that she was deeply ashamed and embarrassed by her actions, as well as remorseful about them. One said he has no concerns about Miller being around his children.
Shapiro called the entire situation "a difficult set of circumstances" and talked at length about how the case hinges on the fact that the boy is 15 instead of 16, just one year away from the age of consent.
"Had this occurred nine or 10 months after it did, it would not have been a crime. The young man would have been 16 years old," Shapiro said, quickly adding the incident would nevertheless have been "wrong."
"This is a crazy set of circumstances," the defense lawyer said. "I think we say to ourselves, how does this happen? She was not acting when this happened like a 36-year-old mother of three."
Shapiro repeated that she is not a predator and the incident "blossomed into what it blossomed into."
He pointed out that Miller is barred from going to the school and, when she recently attended her children's school function, the victim's parents were alarmed and asked the principal to keep her from attending.
He also said she is being punished enough by spending the next 25 years as a registered sex offender.
Tabone read an impact statement on behalf of the victim's parents, in which they said the boy has been suffering "greatly from depression."
"Now another adult has let him down by taking advantage of him," they said in the statement, adding he has stopped participating in football.
Tabone also said: "Sometimes good people do bad things but there has to be a price for that."
Miller was emotional as she gave her statement, saying she "cannot believe I am standing in the court today."
"This is not an accurate portrayal of the person I am," she said, her voice trembling.
She apologized to the victim's parents and said she "cannot begin to express my personal apologies."
"What I did was a mistake, it was a huge lapse in judgment, and I never meant to hurt anybody," she said.
Miller said she could not believe she would be the one to betray the trust of "a student I really, truly intended to help."
Baldwin said Miller will serve eight months of home detention and that he would allow work release.
The judge said he agreed with Shapiro that she was not likely to be a repeat offender but felt a sentence was still necessary.
According to court records, Miller must report to the Harford County Detention Center on Oct. 16 to begin serving her sentence. She will serve four months at the jail and then eight months on home detention. She will be eligible for work release and will also be on three years probation. As what the law considers a Tier 2 sex offender, Miller will be required to register as a sex offender for 25 years.
Miller has not been employed by Harford County Public Schools since Feb. 27, according to Teri Kranefeld, HCPS director of communications.