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Former Staunton River High School teacher and football coach Richard Isaac Witt was sentenced Tuesday to four years in jail for his convictions of 10 misdemeanor counts of having sexual contact with a minor.
Bedford County Circuit Court Judge James Updike handed down a 10-year jail sentence, with all but four of those years suspended, during a hearing in which both victims of Witt's crimes, along with their mothers, testified about the impact Witt's actions had on them and their families.
Witt 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, occurred between March 1, 2008, and July 31, 2008. Witt joined the staff at Staunton River High School in August 2008 as an algebra teacher and head football coach.
The other incident occurred with a student at SRHS while Witt was employed at that school.
That victim's mother testified Witt's actions had completely changed her daughter.
“It's torn her apart,” she said. “It exposed her to things a 15-year-old girl shouldn't be exposed to.”
She said the second safest place a parent should have to send their child to, next to their home, is a school. But, the mother stated, Witt had stolen her child's innocence by using his charismatic personality and position as a teacher as weapons against her. “It's been devastating,” she said of the impact on their family. She urged the court to impose the maximum sentence. “For me and my family, and my daughter, I want every second possible,” the victim's mother said.
The victim, who turned 18 Tuesday, said she could never have imagined having to spend her 18th birthday in court.
She said her relationship with Witt began her junior year at Staunton River, and included leaving school with him. Eventually, she said, that relationship became physical, specifically during an encounter in Witt's car. She said it changed everyone's perception of her. Speaking to Witt from the stand, she said, “I don't want you to go to jail.”
The second victim's mother said her family had been friends with Witt for years. “He was in our home,” she said. “He went to church with us.”
Witt had taught her daughter math at William Byrd as a sophomore. He had also coached both of her sons. She said they thought they could trust Witt.
She testified that she heard her daughter's phone conversations with Witt, that at times sounded like exchanges a boyfriend and girlfriend might have. “We trusted him; he was our family friend.”
But that trust dissolved when she was shown evidence about Witt's contact with her daughter. “It's just gut-wrenching as a mother,” she said of finding out what had happened to her daughter.
Still, she said Witt is “not a monster,” adding that he needs rehabilitation and needs to find boundaries in his life.
Her daughter testified that her relationship with Witt went on for about two years, and hadn't ended when Witt began the relationship with the student at SRHS. She said she was jealous when she found out about the other girl, but was reassured when Witt told her “he liked me better.”
The victim, now 18, said Witt could light up a room and told her that if she was older, “we could be together.”
She said she had been in love with him and imagined having a life together with him.
She said she had multiple encounters with Witt in Bedford and Roanoke counties, at various locations including in his car and at his home. She said she still “wakes up every morning and goes to bed every night thinking about him.”
But, she testified, she realizes what Witt told her “was all a lie.”
“I do really care about you,” she told Witt from the witness stand. “I want you to become a better person.”
Witt's lawyer, Wayne Inge, argued for a 120 day sentence, stating that Witt's family was also suffering because of his actions. He called Witt's crimes “horrendous.”
“There is nothing I can say to defend what he actually did,” Inge said. “He deserves to be prosecuted, he deserves to be punished.”
But Commonwealth's Attorney Randy Krantz said school should have been a safe place for Witt's victims to go. He said Witt, though he is capable of doing good things, seduced the impressionable teenage girls for his own sexual gratification.
He said with the second victim, Witt had rehearsed his actions and deserved a stiff sentence for that. “He fantasizes about having sexual relationships with teenage girls,” Krantz said of Witt. “He had done this once and he was doing it again.”
He said those actions included taking one of the girls home with him and having a sexual encounter with her in his own house.
In addition to the four years of jail time, Judge Updike said Witt is to serve four years of supervised probation after his release. He also is not to have unsupervised contact with minors and is not to have any contact with the victims or their families.
Witt has also pleaded guilty in Roanoke County to two misdemeanor charges of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. He has not yet been sentenced on those charges.