A Warren County judge rejected the insanity plea of a former Mason teacher accused of having sex with students, and sentenced her Thursday to four years in prison.
Judge Robert Peeler found Stacy Schuler guilty on 16 felony counts of sexual battery and three misdemeanor counts of providing alcohol to minors. He announced his decision Thursday afternoon following a four-day bench trial.
Schuler, 33, remained stoic as the verdict and sentence was read. She declined to make a statement on her behalf.
Warren County Prosecutor David P. Fornshell said his office was pleased with the four-year prison sentence — if Schuler serves it.
Schuler will be eligible for judicial release, also known as “shock probation,” which is an option for some Ohio offenders, in six months.
“If she’s released in six months we would not be happy,” Fornshell said.
Schuler will also have to register as a sex offender for the rest of her life.
Authorities say Schuler had sex with five students on multiple occasions between August and December 2010 at her Springboro home. She resigned from her job in February as a health and physical education teacher and trainer with Mason Schools.
All five teens, who were about 17 years old at time, testified that Schuler was drinking alcohol at the time of the alleged incidents, was a willing participant in the acts and initiated much of the contact.
One of the teens testified they considered Schuler’s home a safe place to get high.Several said they were high on marijuana during sex with Schuler and that she made them vodka smoothies and served them beer and peach wine.
Schuler, who waived her right to a jury trial, had pleaded not guilty, but the judge allowed her to enter an alternate plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.
In her closing argument Thursday, Assistant Warren County Prosecutor Theresa Hiett argued that voluntary alcohol consumption is to blame for Schuler’s conduct and that it doesn’t meet the state’s legal definition of insanity.
“She got drunk and made some really poor choices. Does that mean she’s insane? No,” said Hiett.
“She was the adult. She was the teacher. She had the trust. It’s the relationship between the defendant and the victims that makes this a crime.”
However, defense attorney Charlie H. Rittgers argued that Schuler suffered from bipolar disorder and that it and a combination of Zoloft and alcohol prevented her from comprehending the wrongfulness of her actions.
“The underlying disease is the bipolar,” he told the judge. “The catalyst is the Zoloft magnified by the alcohol. ”
Rittgers said it didn’t make sense that a person with Christian values would risk her livelihood and freedom, and said that the evidence supported an insanity defense.
“They want us to believe that all of a sudden after 10 years teaching, she wants to throw it away to have sex with five different guys,” he told the judge. “It’s far more reasonable to believe Stacy was suffering from an underlying psychological disorder.”
Peeler acknowledged that Schuler might have suffered from mental issues and that the combination of Zoloft and alcohol would have some affect on a person’s brain activity.
However, he said that voluntary intoxication cannot be taken into consideration in determining an insanity plea and that Schuler’s defense “lacked credibility.”
“Your attorneys have made a valiant and compelling argument on your behalf,” he told Schuler, but said it would be a “magnificent leap” to believe she didn’t know her actions were wrong.
Family members of the victims wept when the verdict was announced just before 4 p.m. Thursday. Parents of two of the victims delivered tearful pleas to the judge to consider the affect of the crimes on their sons and to send a message that Schuler’s actions were wrong.
“These young men may appear as if they are tough guys, but in reality they are truly hurting,” said one mother through her tears. “(Schuler) played on their emotions and she crossed the line.”
Several students from Mason High School attended the trial’s conclusion Thursday in a show of support for the victims — and for Schuler, who they say is also a victim.
Senior Lauren Robertson said that while she felt the verdict and sentence to be fair, she considers Schuler to be a sick woman who needs treatment instead of prison.
The judge sentenced Schuler to 12 months on each of the sex charges and 30 days on the three alcohol charges. He broke the charges into four groups, with the charges in each group to run concurrently and each group to run consecutively, for a total of 48 months.
The former teacher had faced 81 years in prison on the charges.
Fornshell said a sentence that long was never a real possibility — that number was simply the adding up of every charge if the maximum sentence was handed down. But, he said, sentences are often served concurrently.
“The reality is she was never going to get anywhere close to that– or even near 10 years.” Fornshell said.
Fornshell said he never thought Schuler was insane at the time of her actions.
“I think the judge obviously saw she was able to recognize the wrongfulness of her actions,” Fornshell said. “We had to put on a case, but we never seriously thought she was unable to appreciate the wrongfulness of her actions.”
He added: “I think everyone would agree she has psychological issues, but that doesn’t mean you can’t appreciate the wrongfulness of your actions.”
A four-year sentence isn’t unusual. Kings Junior High School teacher Lisa Karabinus was convicted in 2000 of having sexual relations with a 13-year-old student and sentenced to four years.
Karabinus, who was also eligible for release after six months, served two years of that sentence.
Mark Krumbein, a Cincinnati attorney who’s been following the case, said that it’s uncommon for a judge to indicate when a person would be eligible for judicial release.
Judicial release is designed to give a convicted person a “taste of prison” as a way of encouraging them to model good behavior upon release, he said.
“You usually can’t count on it unless a judge gives you some indication,” said Krumbein. “It sounds like he at least has an open mind to that.”
Although Schuler’s sentence might seem light to some, Krumbein insists that it sends a strong message.
“She has to report as a registered sex offender the rest of her life,” he said of Schuler. “Plus, she’s been disgraced, her family has suffered and she’s lost her profession. Everything she’s worked for in her adult life is now gone. I think the judge took that into consideration.”
Fornshell said he didn’t expect national attention, but the “not guilty by reason of insanity” defense surprised people.
“There are teachers all of the country that do this kind of thing, but the fact that it was a female and a plea of insanity gave it a level of intrigue.” Fornshell said.
This week his office handled the Schuler case and the case of Marcus Isreal, who killed a Warren County sheriff’s deputy during a vehicle pursuit last May. After that Fornshell said he’s looking forward to a less eventful week next week.
“This week is a week I will not forget the rest of my life,” he said.
Staff writer Sharon Coolidge contributed.