A former Howard County teacher was sentenced to five years in prison last night for sending one of his students sexually explicit e-mails, text messages and photos, and exposing his genitals to her in a classroom after school.
Concluding a protracted, emotional hearing that dragged into the night, Judge Richard Bernhardt declared that former Glenelg High School teacher Joseph S. Ellis had "betrayed the trust that was bestowed upon him as a schoolteacher."
Bernhardt likened the crime to "a shepherd victimizing sheep."
"In many ways, it doesn't seem you can commit an act of indecent exposure under more egregious circumstances than these," the judge said.
The victim, who was 17 years old at the time, wept as a statement she had written was read in court describing how the teacher's conduct had made her distrustful of men and brought her parents to the brink of divorce. The Sun does not name victims of sexual offenses.
"Every girl looks forward to her senior year in high school," the victim wrote. "I would rather die than have to relive it."
Ellis, 27, who had taught history and government before his arrest, apologized tearfully to the victim and her family during the eight-hour hearing.
"I really do hope someday you can forgive me," Ellis said, turning to face his accuser. "I think you're brave, and you did the right thing. I take full responsibility for my actions."
Ellis was found guilty in January of sex abuse of a minor, indecent exposure and telephone misuse. He pleaded guilty before the trial began to displaying obscene materials to a minor.
During that three-day trial, the girl said that Ellis had sent her sexually charged e-mails and text messages and photos of genitals and sex acts during December 2006. The girl said that Ellis sometimes text-messaged her up to 25 times a day.
Jurors heard a taped conversation between Ellis and the accuser, which was set up by police. Ellis admitted in that conversation to exposing himself to the girl in his classroom.
Prosecutor Lisa Broten recommended Ellis be sentenced to nine years in prison, with therapy once he was released. The maximum sentence for all the charges was 32 years.
"The defendant has violated one of the most sacred trusting relationships in our society," said Broten, a senior state's attorney. "This is something that cries out for a significant sentence."
Defense attorney Andrew Levy said his client is a productive member of society who made a mistake.
"Joseph was a thoroughly decent, worthwhile leader, and that has to make a difference this evening," Levy said. "The world is a better place because Joey Ellis is in it. ... We shouldn't lock him up and throw away the key."
Bernhardt ordered Ellis to serve five years' supervised probation after he completes his prison term. He also was ordered to register as a child sex offender.
Ellis was the first of three Howard County public school teachers to be arrested during the 2006-2007 school year for accusations of having sexual contact with students. The others were also convicted; one awaits sentencing in June, while the other is serving 18 months.