A Florida teacher, who is serving nearly 40 years in prison for having sex with a 12-year-old student she tutored, wants a new trial, claiming her lawyer gave her bad advice in court five years ago.
Ethel Anderson was 31 years old and a fifth grade teacher at Mango Elementary when she was sentenced to 38 years for performing oral sex and other lewd acts on a then 12-year-old boy she taught in first grade, but later tutored at her Riverview home on weekends.
On Wednesday, Anderson returned to the courtroom claiming her lawyer, William Knight, made mistakes and gave her bad advice during the 2013 trial. She said when the state offered her a 15-year plea deal, she passed on it after talking things over with Knight, according to WTVT. Anderson said she was never told that, if found guilty, she faced a minimum prison sentence of 38 years. Knight, also present, disputed her claim. He told the court he explained to Anderson all of the possible outcomes. Anderson then said that, during the trial, she never saw her score sheet. This calculates a defendant’s minimum sentence. However, Rita Peters, who prosecuted Anderson’s case for the state, said: “I would not prepare a score sheet until after the verdict.”
In March 2012, the mother of the 12-year-old suspected that Anderson was sexually involved with her son. She contacted police. Hillsborough County Public Schools officials investigated the allegations, ultimately, suspending Anderson without pay. Anderson, who was married and the mother of a young child, taught at Mango Elementary since 2006, had a spotless disciplinary record, and, in 2011, was named Diversity Educator of the Year, according to Bay News 9.
She was also one of several female teachers to rock Hillsborough County for sexual misconduct with a student. Anderson received the harshest punishment. In 2010, Stephanie Ragusa pleaded guilty to having sex with two male students, both minors. Although sentenced to 10 years, she was released in 2016 and placed on probation. Debra Lafave, 24, made national headlines in 2004 for having sex with a 14-year-old student. She pleaded guilty to one count of lewd and lascivious battery and got three years of house arrest and seven years of probation.
During the September 2013 trial, the then 14-year–old victim testified Anderson would “rub on my leg, kiss on my ear and stuff like that.” He told the court Anderson sent him thousands of sexually graphic text messages. Anderson said she sent messages that were part of a teaching technique “to get his attention for the purpose of his education.”
Among those texts, she wrote: “My heart is seriously pounding right now thinking of you” and “Tingles just reading that,” the latter which Anderson sent to the boy after he said he wanted to have sex with her, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
Reportedly, prosecutors secretly recorded Anderson admitting to the boy’s mother she performed oral sex on her child. Anderson was found guilty on nine counts of lewd and lascivious battery. She faced up to 135 years in prison, 15 years for each charge.
Then, in December 2013, Anderson begged the court for leniency, saying “I’m a mother, I’m not a monster…There must be something in me that shows I’m worthy of mercy,” according to the Tampa Bay Times. Her father also appealed on behalf of his granddaughter. Even a psychologist said she treated Anderson for bipolar disorder prior to her arrest.
Still, Circuit Judge Chet Tharpe called Anderson “a parent’s worst nightmare” and sentenced her to the 38 years she now contests. It will be up to a new judge to determine if mistakes were made in Anderson’s case and if it warrants a do-over.