A former Philip Barbour High School teacher accused of having an inappropriate relationship with a student appeared in court on Friday and pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges.
Sarah Ann Rutherford, 25, of 2770 Indian Fork Road, Orlando, was indicted in October 2011 for the felony charge of sexual abuse by a guardian or custodian or person in a position of trust of a child after allegedly having sexual intercourse with a male student between the ages of 16 and 18 in August or September 2010 while employed as a teacher.
"During the fall of 2010, I had an inappropriate relationship (with the victim), where we actually kissed," Rutherford said Friday during the hearing, adding that the incident occurred outside of school.
Rutherford also was indicted in October 2011 on three misdemeanor counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. The case involved a different Philip Barbour High School student to whom she allegedly provided Klonopin, marijuana and alcohol between October and December 2010. Rutherford said Friday that this also happened outside of school.
In May, Rutherford was indicted on two felony counts of delivery of a controlled substance for allegedly providing Klonopin and marijuana to a minor sometime between October and December 2010.
During Friday's hearing, Rutherford admitted to smoking marijuana with the same student to whom she provided Klonopin and alcohol.
As part of the plea agreement Friday, the felony charge of sexual abuse by a person in the position of trust of a child was dismissed and replaced with a misdemeanor charge of battery. The change was made under the condition that Rutherford plead guilty to the misdemeanor battery charge and two misdemeanor charges of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
"The state agrees to move to dismiss the remaining counts in these two indictments," Circuit Judge Alan D. Moats said.
Moats had ordered the state Department of Health and Human Resources to release records to the court as a result of Dyer's motion in a hearing Tuesday. After reviewing the documents in their entirety, Prosecuting Attorney Leckta L. Poling recommended the felony count of sexual abuse by a person in the position of trust of a child be reduced to battery.
"The state received the documentation from the DHHR on June 26. After reviewing that documentation in its entirety, the state is aware that there are inconsistent statements with the victim," Poling said. "Those are obviously issues."
The documentation was confidential and had not been released to any person, including the court, according to Moats. The judge also stated that it appears the victim has given contradicting statements, one denying the relationship and one alleging the "conduct" took place. A testimony from another minor at Tuesday's hearing also contradicted some of the statements, officials said.
"The court understands that such contradictions are not at all uncommon in cases of this nature pertaining to children; however, it puts the prosecuting attorney in a quandary to present a case to a jury," Moats said.
Poling met with the victim of the alleged sexual abuse, who is now 18, and his father, who she said "are in agreement with the reduction of the felony offense to the misdemeanor battery."
She also believes, based upon the records in the evidence, that the community and school students are protected with the additional condition of the plea agreement that Rutherford voluntarily gives up her teaching certificate and can no longer teach in the future.
"So I believe that that addresses the state's concern regarding the victim and the community in this matter," said Poling.
Rutherford is not to have any contact with either of the victims.
A sentencing hearing will be set for a later date. For the two misdemeanor charges of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, there is a possible penalty of up to one year in jail or a fine of no less than $50 or more than $500 or both. For the misdemeanor of battery, there is a possible penalty of up to one year in jail or a fine of $150 or both.
Moats ordered a pre-sentence investigation and said Rutherford's bond would continue under the supervision of Probation Officer Heather Pride.
Rutherford had been scheduled to go to trial on July 9.