Ex-teacher’s aide convicted in student sex case — (The Salt Lake Tribune)

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The Salt Lake Tribune

By Melinda rogers

Published Nov 13, 2010 10:38AM

West Jordan • A jury has found a former aide at West Jordan Middle School guilty of sexually abusing two students, following the conclusion of a four-day trial where defense attorneys for the woman accused her alleged victims of concocting the story as a mode of revenge.

After about two hours of deliberation, the 3rd District Court jury late Friday convicted Andrea Billingsley, 31, of three counts of first-degree felony sodomy, three counts of first-degree felony forcible sexual abuse and one count of rape. She faces up to life in prison when she is sentenced Dec. 17 before Judge Robert Adkins.

The verdict came after jurors heard tearful testimony from Billingsley, who took the stand in her own defense to say her alleged victims had waged a campaign of lies against her as a result of her reporting bad behavior to a school principal.

One of the boys had allegedly made comments about Billingsley’s breasts in Spanish during a lunch detention in May 2009, she said. Feeling harassed, she reported the incident to a school principal. That boy, in turn, received detention and was angry with Billingsley, she testified.

She said she later met with school authorities when she heard rumors circulating that she had had sexual contact with the boy who had made the comment about her breasts. Billingsley approached her supervisor to say she was concerned about the rumor, and she met with a school principal and a student she believed had started the rumor to discuss the matter, she said.

Billingsley testified she thought the issue was resolved at that meeting in May 2009, and the whole situation had been written off as a vicious rumor. Then police showed up on her doorstep one day, she said.

She described being taken to jail, where other inmates told her to plead guilty to a lower count –advice she took, she said. Prosecutors presented evidence from a conversation where Billingsley admitted being guilty. She testified she only did so because she wanted to get home to her husband and two children and thought saying she was guilty would allow her to go home.

She said she wasn’t making comments with a clear head while in jail because she did not have access to medication she needs regularly to control depression, anxiety and attention deficit disorder.

“I’ve never been torn away from [my kids] like that before. I could only think about getting back home to my kids,” Billingsley said, crying. She testified she had been married for 15 years and has 14-year-old and 11-year-old sons.

She acknowledged that she had picked up the victims in July 2009 and took them to West Jordan Park. But that was only after they had called asking for a ride and one of the boys had requested she purchase a coupon book as a fundraiser for the West Jordan High School football team.

She agreed, but when one of the boys started asking inappropriate questions about her husband and then touched and tried to lean over in an apparent attempt to kiss her in the SUV, she told them to get out of the vehicle and left the scene, she said.

On the way out of the car, one of the boys said “What are you going to do, tell the principal?” she testified.

She told her husband about the situation and he was upset, calling her “naïve” and scolding her for putting herself in a bad spot, she said.

In closing arguments, Salt Lake County Deputy District Attorney Peter Leavitt asked jurors to consider the case against Billingsley, including DNA evidence determined to be seminal fluid from one of the boys. The defense team said the semen traced back to the boy as a result of “biological overlay,” where some of his DNA from simply riding in the car had mixed with semen from Billingsley’s husband, which was in the vehicle because the couple had sex in it when camping.

Leavitt also pointed to telephone calls between Billingsley and one of the victims, where she told the boy “I’m glad you denied it, thank you dear,” in a discussion the two had where the boy told her he had initially lied to police about their affair.

Leavitt said Billingsley preyed on the teens, who she knew would make easy sexual partners.

“Everybody knows 15-year-old boys are raging piles of hormones. You know who else knew that? She did,” Leavitt said, pointing to Billingsley in the courtroom.

He categorized the paramount issue in the case as consent. He said the boys didn’t protest against Billingsley’s sexual advances, but in Utah law, it doesn’t matter if the boys did or did not fight off the woman.

“The law says no for them,” Leavitt said. “Kids can’t be expected to make appropriate decisions.”

But defense attorney Rhome Dean Zabriskie said Billingsley’s case is one of a 15-year-old boy’s fantasy turned rumor gone wild. He said the boy bragged to his football teammates about getting oral sex from Billingsley in a classrom to get attention, but didn’t want to seem like a liar once the story morphed into a police investigation.

Zabriskie reiterated to the jury several times that the allegations never happened.

He said the victim’s choice was to be “a liar or a lover,” and the boy chose to continue on with his made up story to impress his football teammates, who the boy referred to as a “brotherhood” during trial. He accused the football players of covering up the truth about the boy’s fabrication.

“The ‘brotherhood’ is expected to keep quiet,” Zabriskie said, later adding “We cannot enable people to lie.”

He told the jury it’s preposterous that Billingsley would engage in sex acts in a classroom in the middle of the day, when people were walking in and out of an unlocked door and a gym class was in full swing next door. He said it’s unlikely that Billingsley would have had sex with the boys in West Jordan Park in the summer, on a Sunday afternoon when dozens of families were out and about ­ and in a park just steps away from a police station.

He said his client’s life will never be the same, and she and her family have suffered public scorn and embarrassment over publicity of the case.

mrogers@sltrib.com