A 3rd District judge on Monday overturned the conviction of a former aide at West Jordan Middle School who was found guilty of sexually abusing two students in November.
In a surprise ruling, Judge Robert Adkins lifted the guilty verdict against Andrea Billingsley, 31, just four days before Billingsley was scheduled to face a sentencing of up to life in prison in Adkins' courtroom.
But the case against Billingsley won't be thrown out all together.
It has been set before a new judge and could be retried. A decision on when and whether there will be a second trial has not been made and perhaps won't be made until a series of potential appeals from both prosecutors and defense attorneys are sorted through.
Adkins ruled in favor of Billingsley's defense attorneys, who filed motions contesting her conviction based on evidence defense should have been allowed to present to the jury regarding the juvenile victims' "past history," said attorney Rhome D. Zabriskie.
Zabriskie said Billingsley was falsely labeled as being in a "position of trust" because she was not a teacher, but a teacher's aide who was no longer working at the school when her alleged crimes took place.
Zabriskie also plans to argue against the notion the victims were enticed by his client. Billingsley still maintains she did not engage in sex acts with either boy, Zabriskie said. Not allowing the additional evidence to be at the November trial prevented the jury from hearing information that could have shed a different light on Billingsley's case, he said.
Zabriskie said he can't discuss what sort of "past history" of the victims he plans to bring forward. Adkins' decision, nonetheless, raises new questions in a case fraught with confusion.
"The vast majority of people that attended the trial left not knowing who was telling the truth," Zabriskie said Monday. He called Adkins' decision to admit there were problems with Billingsley's trial "courageous."
Prosecutors couldn't be reached for comment late Monday.
Jurors convicted Billingsely following a trial in which defense attorneys argued that Billingsley's supposed victims concocted a story about sexual escapades as a mode of revenge. The jury returned a guilty verdict on three counts of first-degree felony sodomy, three counts of first-degree felony forcible sexual abuse and one count of rape.
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 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.
Zabriskie said Billingsley's case is one of a 15-year-old boy who bragged to his football teammates about getting oral sex from Billingsley, but didn't want to seem like a liar once the story morphed into a police investigation.
Prosecutors' disputed Billingsley's story.
Through much of the trial, Salt Lake County Deputy District Attorney Peter Leavitt pointed to DNA evidence determined to be seminal fluid from one of the boys. Leavitt also pointed to telephone calls between Billingsley and one of the victims, when she told the boy "I'm glad you denied it, thank you dear," in a discussion the two had in which 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.
The defense team, however, maintained the semen traced back to the boy was a result of "biological overlay;" 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.
Zabriskie said Billingsley will next appear in court in January. She is out of custody and at home with her family as the case proceeds.
A former teacher's aide at West Jordan Middle School found guilty of sexually abusing two 15-year-old students could be retried in 3rd District Court after a judge overturned her conviction Monday, finding that certain evidence in the case that could have helped the woman's defense was not allowed to be admitted at her November trial.
Andrea Billingsley, 31, was charged in connection with engaging in sex acts with two boys at the same time in a West Jordan park in July 2009. She was also accused of performing oral sex on one of the same boys when he was in her classroom for lunch detention in May 2009. Billingsley oversaw a classroom for in-school suspension assigned to students with disciplinary problems.
The boys testified during Billingsley's four-day trial that she sent photos of her naked breasts to one of their cell phones before she seduced them in the park. The alleged victim of the classroom incident said Billingsley showed the same photo of her breasts as a way to entice him into letting her give him oral sex. Another student testified Billingsley told her that she had cheated on her husband with the student.
Billingsley and her defense attorneys maintained throughout the trial that the allegations against her were false and that the students lied on the stand.
Billingsley testified she kept a nude photo of herself on the phone to send to her husband and said she believes the boys took the photo off the phone when the device was missing in school one day.