Mar. 23—A former Decatur High School teacher charged in 2016 with having sexual relations with two Decatur High students entered a guilty plea in Morgan County Circuit Court on Monday to one count of a school employee engaging in a sex act with a student under the age of 19.
Prosecutors agreed to dismiss a second count.
Carrie Cabri Witt, 47, was arrested in March 2016 after an investigation by Decatur police for two counts of engaging in a sex act with a student under the age of 19 years and was released after posting bond. One student was 17 when the physical relationship started and the other was 18, according to police.
Witt's trial was scheduled to start Monday, but she entered a "blind plea" without an agreement with the District Attorney's Office on a sentence. Morgan County Circuit Court Judge Jennifer Howell, who is hearing the case, set the sentencing hearing for July 1.
The DA's office said Witt is facing up to 20 years in the Alabama Department of Corrections for the Class B felony, and must register as a sex offender.
Witt was placed on paid administrative leave after her arrest, and she resigned in August 2018, on the day before her scheduled due process hearing with the Decatur City Schools Board of Education.
"We're glad that it's resolved, that it's done," said Morgan County Assistant District Attorney Courtney Schellack. "This has been a long case, between getting it dismissed by Judge (Glenn) Thompson and going to the Court of Criminal Appeals and bringing it back" to Circuit Court. "It's been a long process and we're just glad it's done for the community and the victims in the case."
Witt did not negotiate a sentence with the DA's office.
"This was a blind plea, which means that basically we got a conviction but there's no recommendation on a sentence where typically in a plea there is a recommendation or an agreement on a sentence," said District Attorney Scott Anderson. "Therefore we are free to argue what we think a proper sentence should be.
"And in this case, we believe that prison time is more than appropriate. We think it's appropriate not only as punishment for this defendant and her actions, we think it's appropriate to deter anyone in the future from violating this law."
Witt's attorneys, Robert Tuten and Nick Heatherly of Huntsville, declined to comment.
Witt's attorneys had argued in court filings that the 2010 statute under which their client was charged — prohibiting a school employee from engaging in a sex act or deviant sexual intercourse with a student — is unconstitutional. They said there are laws to protect people who are incapable of consent because of age, mental defect, physical incapacity and in cases of coercion or fraud.
Under state law, Witt's attorneys wrote, anyone without a specified infirmity who is at least 16 years old is capable of consenting to sex.
Attorneys from the Morgan County District Attorney's Office and the Alabama Attorney General's Office argued that the statute was constitutional and was necessary to protect students from sexual advances by school employees.
Now-retired Morgan County Circuit Judge Glenn Thompson heard arguments from both sides and in 2017 dismissed the charges against Witt and another defendant charged with violating the same law.
Thompson had said the law was unconstitutional as applied to Witt and David Solomon, who was a contract teacher at Falkville High School.
"This Court acknowledges that a disparity of power may inherently exist in a teacher/student relationship, but it clearly does not exist between every school employee and every student regardless of where the student is enrolled," Thompson wrote. "By eliminating the requirement that the state show a position of authority, grooming, abuse, coercion, or lack of consent, the state criminalizes behaviors outside the state's legitimate purpose."
The state appealed and the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals reversed Thompson's ruling and ordered that the charges be reinstated against Witt.
"(The Witt case) got set right before COVID hit and COVID's delayed it until now," Schellack said.
— firstname.lastname@example.org or 256-340-2438. Twitter @DD_MAccardi.