Former band teacher sentenced for sex with student — (The Columbian)

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The Columbian

By Laura McVicker, Columbian staff writer

Published: November 19, 2010

A former Heritage High School band director who pleaded guilty to having sex with a student was sentenced Friday to nine months in jail.

The sentence means Tyler J. Benedict, 30, of Ridgefield also loses his teaching license, must register as a sex offender for 10 years and faces one year of community supervision following his release from jail.

Clark County Superior Court Judge Roger Bennett called the sentence “a severe punishment short of going to prison.” The crime wasn’t serious enough for prison for a first-time offense, but it does take into account how Benedict abused his authority and trust as a teacher, Bennett added.

“This is not an accident. This is not a mistake,” the judge said. “It was a calculated act in hopes of not getting caught.”

Deputy Prosecutor Jeff McCarty said the sex acts occurred on two separate occasions between June 15 and July 15. He and Benedict’s attorney, Gerry Wear, negotiated a plea to one count.

Investigators said the case surfaced when the 17-year-old girl’s parents discovered inappropriate text and computer messages between their daughter and Benedict. And both she and Benedict later confessed to being in a “romantic and sexual relationship.”

While the age of consent in Washington is 16, prosecutors charged Benedict under the “abuse of trust” statute, which applies to teachers.

Benedict pleaded guilty Oct. 7.

McCarty echoed the judge’s statements in arguing for a nine-month sentence, the midpoint of the sentencing range for first-degree sexual misconduct with a minor. The abuse of trust went beyond the victim, reaching also the school district, the victim’s parents and Benedict’s other former students’ parents, he said.

“In this day and age, with all parents have to deal with, they should be able to send their kids to school without them being sexually solicited,” McCarty said.

But Wear wouldn’t classify his client as a predator. Rather, he “made an incredible lapse of judgment” during a stressful time in his life, Wear said. He had started taking medication for depression shortly before the crime happened.

Benedict, who had his shoulders slumped and head down during most of the hearing, apologized to the victim and her family as well as his family, former wife and students, saying he hoped people could move on from the incident.

His attorney isn’t entirely sure Benedict can.

“His future as an educator is over,” Wear said to the judge, noting the divorce between Benedict and his wife also was finalized this week. “He’s going to be a registered sex offender. And his reputation is ruined.”

“Mr. Benedict himself is very remorseful,” the attorney added.

A spokeswoman for Evergreen Public Schools, where Benedict worked for three years, said his last day of employment was Oct. 14. Before that, he had been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the criminal investigation.

Laura McVicker:  360-735-4516  or laura.mcvicker@columbian.com.