Farmington » A former Bountiful Junior High math teacher rejected a plea deal Thursday, opting to go to trial over her alleged sexual relationship with a 14-year-old former student.
Valynne Bowers, 40, is charged in 2nd District Court with five counts of rape and three counts of forcible sodomy, all first-degree felonies punishable by up to life in prison. One rejected deal would have prosecutors recommending probation.
The severity of the charges is based on Bowers' alleged "position of special trust" as a teacher, which will be the crucial issue during Bowers' April 20 jury trial before Judge John Morris.
Defense attorney Rich Gallegos has denied there was any teacher-student relationship in this case because no sexual conduct occurred at school and Bowers was not the boy's teacher at the time of the alleged crimes.
Gallegos insists Bowers is guilty -- at most -- of the lesser third-degree felony crime of unlawful sexual conduct with a minor.
There is little chance of Bowers being acquitted altogether. She allegedly confessed the sexual relationship to police and also penned a statement saying she was driven by loneliness and depression.
Prosecutors had offered Bowers two different plea deals.
She could have pleaded guilty to one count of attempted aggravated sex abuse of child, which carries a potential prison term of three years to life, but the state would have recommended probation with jail time.
Alternatively, Bowers could have pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree felony sexual abuse of a child, which carry potential one-to-15-year prison terms. The state would have recommended concurrent terms, but remained silent on whether she should face prison time.
Negotiations broke down because the defense wanted a Rule 11 plea, in which Bowers could have withdrawn her plea if the judge refused to impose probation.
Deputy Davis County Attorney Rick Westmoreland explained that he was not comfortable deciding Bowers' sentence.
With a Rule 11 plea, "the judge is trusting the state and defense to craft a sentence, and that is not our job," Westmoreland told reporters.
Westmoreland said in court that with Bowers' rejection of the plea deals, "no more offers will be made." Bowers told the judge she understood.
During a preliminary hearing last year, the boy said he initiated contact with Bowers in December 2008 by showing up to her after-school math study sessions. He got her cell phone number by using her phone to send himself a message, then began texting and talking to her about his troubled past -- including being sexually molested as a younger child -- and other personal problems.
The communications turned sexual; the two engaged in phone sex, according to testimony, and had intercourse on Jan. 2. A week or two later, the boy began giving Bowers guitar lessons at her home, where they had sex every Friday night until Feb. 27, according to testimony.
In early March, Linda Nef, 46, another Bountiful Junior High teacher, went to police and told them she had a sexual relationship with the same boy when he was 13 years old. Nef also told police about Bowers.
Nef, who taught Utah social studies, was sentenced in July to prison for three years to life. She had pleaded guilty to one count of attempted aggravated sexual abuse of a child, admitting she had sex with the boy from Jan. 1, 2008, through Feb. 14, 2008.