LEBANON, Ohio (AP) - A high school teacher was convicted Thursday of having sex with five students, some of them football players, after an Ohio judge rejected an insanity defense that argued the teens took advantage of her.
Stacy Schuler was sentenced to a total of four years in prison for the encounters with the Mason High School students at her home in Springboro in southwest Ohio in 2010. She can ask a judge to free her from prison after six months.
The 33-year-old Schuler, who could have faced decades in prison, cried as she was handcuffed and led out of the courtroom.
The five teens testified that Schuler, a health and gym teacher, had been drinking alcohol at the time of the encounters and was a willing participant who initiated much of the contact. The teens were about 17 at the time. The age of consent in Ohio is 16, but it's illegal for a teacher to have sex with a student.
"This is a noble profession that you have, and I've heard a lot of good things about you, but I know that you had the opportunity, as all teachers do, to affect the lives of our children," Warren County Common Pleas Judge Robert Peeler said. "You crossed a line."
Schuler's lawyers argued she had medical and psychological issues and couldn't remember the encounters.
Before sentencing Schuler on 16 counts of sexual battery and three counts of providing alcohol to a minor, the judge said it would be a "magnificent leap" to believe she didn't know her actions were wrong.
Schuler didn't testify during the four-day nonjury trial, and she and her attorneys declined to address the judge before he sentenced her.
But parents of two of the teen victims made tearful statements.
A father spoke of his son's depression and lost motivation and said the teen almost didn't go to college. He asked the judge to hand down a sentence to send a message that Schuler's acts are not acceptable and there are serious consequences.
"It impacts the teaching community as a whole, how a single teacher who made the wrong decision multiple times overshadows 99.9 percent of the teachers that truly do care, not pretend to care, about their students," he said.
A mother said her son turned to and trusted Schuler during an extremely low period when his father had cancer and related health problems.
"These young men may appear as if they are tough guys, but in reality, they are truly hurting," she said.
"She took advantage of their vulnerability. She crossed the line and it is unacceptable."
Assistant prosecutor Teresa Hiett further pointed out to the judge how the teens have been affected, noting Mason High School was shut down for the week of the trial because "everyone's been trying to figure out who these five boys were."
Testimony from a defense psychologist had suggested Schuler's medical and physical ailments, combined with her vegan diet and use of alcohol and an antidepressant, helped impair her ability to tell right from wrong.
A psychologist for the prosecution rebutted that testimony, saying the use of alcohol does not meet the state standard for an insanity defense and that willingly getting drunk is not a legal defense for a crime.
Two former Mason students had testified Schuler had devised a plan to enter an insanity plea before she was ever charged. Other students testified on Schuler's behalf, hugging her in the courtroom and telling the judge she was a supportive advocate who kept appropriate boundaries.
Schuler had been a teacher and athletic trainer at the school north of Cincinnati since 2000 before resigning in February after an anonymous tip to the school led to the charges against her.