Former teacher sentenced for sexual relationship with student
Heidi Bradshaw Sheets has been sentenced to a total of 40 years for a sexual relationship with an underage student. The former Rivermont School teacher and principal was found guilty earlier this year of the illicit affair which took place in February of last year.
Sheets, entered guilty pleas to eight of 18 charges in Mecklenburg County was sentenced to a total of 40 years on four charges of use of a computer proposing sex with a minor and one year for each of four charges taking indecent liberties with a minor. Judge Leslie Osborn suspend the one year sentence on the three remaining charges of taking indecent liberties leaving Sheets with an active sentence of five years.
Time already served, some 320 days, will count toward her sentence. Sheets is also required to register as a sex offender and may not have any contact with her victim.
Also on Wednesday, Sheets entered into a plea deal with Halifax County Commonwealth Attorney Anna Bowen on seven related charges pending in Halifax. Judge Osborn ordered a pre-sentence report returnable on March 20.
The case came to light in April of last year when a computer at the Rivermont school was left on and logged into Facebook. On the screen were incriminating comments where Sheets and the 17-year-old students had talked about the affair. Authorities were quickly notified and Sheets was taken into custody.
Sheets was first charged with offenses in Halifax County where Sheets had traveled from her Baskerville home to meet with the student at his South Boston home.
Ten days later, she was charged with additional offenses in Mecklenburg County.
Sheets, a single mother of one, had been an educator in Mecklenburg County since 1999.
During testimony offered on Wednesday, Dr. Evan Nelson, a forensic psychologist recognized as an expert witness, testified that Sheets had never displayed any symptoms of mental treatment, drug or alcohol abuse or interest in pornography. She did, he added, suffer from a low self esteem, childhood problems and a history of failed relationships with men. The February incident happened shortly after Sheets and her boyfriend had broken up.
The relationship, he said, was a “rebound” relationship.”
Dr. Nelson also explained that at the time, Sheets had been on a medication that may have played a role in her behavior. The drug, he said, has been shown to cause compulsive behavior in some people. That, he said, could have been at least part of the cause of her sudden interest in pornography and her inappropriate behavior.
Dr. Nelson also pointed out that Sheets was remorseful and did not blame the victim and accepted full responsibility for her action. She would, he added, be “a delightful” candidate for therapy.
Finally, he pointed out that while few women commit such actions, available statistics show that Sheets is highly unlikely to repeat her actions.
Mecklenburg Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Meredith Adkins argued that while all of Dr. Nelson’s statements may have been accurate, at 39 years of age, Sheets knew that what she did was wrong and illegal. She quoted several Facebook messages where Sheets told the 17-year-old student that if anyone found out, she could lose her job and go to jail.
Nancy Bradshaw, mother of Sheets, testified that growing up, Sheets had been a normal child and a good, responsible mother. She added that she was prepared to provide a home for Sheets following her release from custody and wanted to help her “get back on her feet.”
During her summary, Atkins again admitted that Dr. Nelson made some good points concerning Sheets but those facts did not change the fact that as an adult, a teacher and an authority figure, Sheets actions could not be written off.
“The fact that the events took place over a two week period doesn’t make it less serious,” said Atkins who went on to say that the defense argument that the affair was consensual and the pair were on “equal footing” was false.
”He can’t consent,” said Atkins. “He’s a child, under 18. She was a 40-year-old teacher. They will never be on equal footing.”
Atkins quoted several of the Facebook posts, some graphic, showed that Sheets was the instigator in the affair. She also told the court that while Sheets had refused a request from her victim to purchase marijuana for him, she had offered to provide him with money to buy it for himself.
Atkins asked for a sentence of 40 years in the case.
Defense attorney Brenden Dunning told the court that the affair represented a period of two weeks and included two encounters out of 39 years. “Before that, nothing, said Dunning. “After, nothing.”
Dunning described sheets as a “good person who made a bad decision” and stressed that prior to the affair, Sheets had been a regular “soccer mom,” well respected in the community and in her profession. He added that she realized that she had thrown away her career, “there’s no doubt about that,” he said. He went on to say that Dr. Nelson had pointed out that some of her actions could have been influenced by a medication, which could have caused compulsive behavior.
Dunning also pointed out that Sheets had not been “predatory” and had not worked on the victim’s weakness “in any way.” He also pointed out that the victim, then 17, was currently facing charges for other offenses and a willing participant in the events which took place.
Dunning suggested that the court allow Sheets to remain free and at the home of her mother under “heavy supervision” included monitoring. He concluded by asking the court allow her to return to the community to be a mother to her son and to “find the therapy that she needs.”
Atkins repeated her arguments, saying that as an adult, authority figure, Sheets had known right from wrong and was guilty of the crimes charged.
Speaking to the court, Sheets apologized for the mistakes she had made and apologized to her son and parents for the hurt she had caused them. She said that her mistake had already cost her 320 days in jail and her career and had been a single mom working full time and at home to raise her child and felt that she had learned patience and prudence from her mistakes. She added that while she was granted bond, she had elected to remain in jail to do at least some of her time.
Talking about her son, she said that she had missed nearly a year of being there for him. “I hope I can be at home,” she said, “I don’t want to spend his Junior year in jail.”
Judge Osborn told the court that he had served on the bench for 18 years and had worked many cases with expert witness Dr. Nelson. He added that “this case is different in a lot of ways.”
Under the sentencing guidelines point system, Judge Osborn said that Sheets was only a few points away from a recommendation of no time. He went on to say that the high end of the guidelines in this case did not make sense to him, but noted that the guidelines gave him discretion in this case.
Having said that, Judge Osborn said that for all the extenuating circumstances brought up by Dr. Nelson, there were still negatives in the case. Judge Osborn pointed to the messages on Facebook, the language used, that she was in a custodial relationship with the victim were all factors in his ruling. He added that the affair had not been a one-time mistake but had taken place over a two week period.
Judge Osborn handed down a total of 40 years on four charges of use of a computer proposing sex and one year on the first of four charges of taking indecent liberties with a minor for an active sentence of five years. Time already served, some 320 days, will count toward her sentence.