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Former Staunton River High School teacher and football coach Richard Isaac Witt could face up to 10 years in jail after pleading guilty Tuesday morning to 10 misdemeanor counts of having consensual sexual contact with a minor.
Sentencing is scheduled for March 1 in what is expected to be a contested hearing from both the defense and prosecution.
What does Bedford County Commonwealth’s Attorney Randy Krantz want citizens to understand about Tuesday’s outcome:
• that Witt admitted in court to having sexual relations with two different minor girls;
• that he isn’t getting a break by pleading to misdemeanors instead of felonies; and
• that he’s going to be sentenced, probably with substantial time in jail.
Witt. 37, was charged with having sexual contact with a minor girl in Bedford County while he was still employed as a teacher and coach at William Byrd High School in Roanoke County. The sexual contact with the girl, between the ages of 16 and 17 years old, allegedly occurred between March 1, 2008, and July 31, 2008. Witt joined the staff at Staunton River High School in August 2008 as an algebra football coach. Witt served as SRHS head football coach for two seasons.
The other incident occurred with a student at SRHS while Witt was employed at the school, taking place in 2009.
Witt remains out on bond, pending sentencing, and was ordered by Judge James Updike to not have any contact with minors, except his own children. He will undergo a sex offender evaluation as part of the pre-sentence report, but, because the convictions are misdemeanors, he will not have to register as a sex offender under current state law.
Krantz said because of sentencing guidelines, Witt stands to serve more time in jail on the misdemeanor convictions than if he had pleaded guilty to felony counts. Under the felony guidelines, Witt could have received up to six months total on the 10 charges but there won’t be any guidelines to follow with the misdemeanor convictions. That means he could receive up to 12 months on each conviction.
Getting Witt to state his guilt in court was important, Krantz said, because some have refused to believe he actually did what he was charged with committing. He called Witt’s actions “a crime of exploitation” against the two girls involved.
“We’re going to be seeking active jail time,” Krantz said.
Krantz said both sides had been planning on seeing the case through to trial, but by offering the misdemeanor charges he said it kept from having the victims to have to testify in court.
If Witt had pleaded guilty to the original four charges that he faced, Krantz said he could have only faced from one day to three months in jail. When he failed to do that, additional charges were added and Krantz said he wouldn’t have been satisfied with anything less than Witt admitting his guilt to the charges.
Krantz said Witt manipulated the two victims. “The girls really believed he was in love them,” he said. Phone and text messages from Witt to the girls would have likely been a part of the prosecution’s case had it gone to trial. In the beginning, Krantz said the girls didn’t want Witt prosecuted. “The girls were really in pain,” he added.
But they’ve since bonded with one another and have shown great maturity through the prosecution of the case, Krantz said. That step happened “when they realized how they had been played” by Witt, he added.
“That’s part of our job, to help them through that,” Krantz stated.
Part of the decision process was working with the families of the victims to decide what was in the best interest of their daughters. The bottom line for the parents, in prosecuting the cases: “That’s not what we send our children to school for,” Krantz said one of them had stated.
“I could not have had a better set of parents to work with,” he added, noting they had been in agreement with the plea arrangement.
Krantz said those who support Witt should not “enable him,” by refusing to see his guilt. Witt, Krantz said, took advantage of someone under his authority “for his own gratification.”
Krantz said the pleas are a vindication for the victims: “The girls were telling the truth.”
“To the extent that people may still believe he didn’t do it, listen to his plea,” Krantz urged. “That was important for the Commonwealth, that Rick Witt accept responsibility.”
Witt’s attorney, Wayne Inge, said he expects his client to receive substantial jail time at sentencing. He said a compromise was reached by both sides to avoid going to trial.
Inge said he had daughters who had been in Witt’s classes while he taught at William Byrd and he was sensitive to issues of the case. He said a “Facebook Flame War” that has taken place on that Web site is in no one’s best interest in this case.
“Frankly, if it had been my daughters, I would have never complained,” Inge said of the state of the case. “You lose complete control of the case and where we are right now is a complete disaster.”
He said the Facebook activity had become a “wildfire” and there would be no resolution to it.
“People are taking sides; people who have no idea what happened,” he said, adding it could have been handled differently.
“These are misdemeanor charges. These could have been filed in J and D (juvenile and domestic relations) court.”
Inge disputed that the charges came to light after the school system contacted the sheriff’s office about the issue. “I suggest you don’t know what you’re talking about,” he told the media.
Inge, who said he’s a friend of Witt’s, said his client, as a result of the convictions, will never teach again.
“I understand how these cases are handled from beginning to end,” Inge said of the nature of this case. “I understand that you lose control of how the case is going to go; different interests are interposed.”
He said he is sympathetic to the families’ situation and could not imagine having to deal with the public examination they have had to face with this case. “Once you make the complaint you lose control of what is going to happen,” he said. “That’s what has happened here.”
Inge said in a case like this, as a parent, he would want to have complete control of how the case was going to be handled through the court system. “If I could not be promised that, or guaranteed that, then it wouldn’t happen,” he said. ‘What has happened is very foreseeable. As a parent, I would not have liked this path to have been taken. ... There was a time, when justice could have been had, without it taking the path that it took.”
At sentencing, Inge said a good representation of those supporting Witt will be presented during the hearing. “We are expecting to have to do a substantial amount of jail time,” Inge said of the potential sentence Witt is facing.
He said the Bedford County School Board handled the situation properly. Witt resigned from the school system last December.