Saying she had to send a "clear message" that sexual relationships between teachers and students will not be tolerated, a Portage County judge on Monday denied early release from prison for a former Aurora substitute teacher convicted of having sex with a 16-year-old boy.
Common Pleas Judge Laurie Pittman denied judicial release for Mary E. Schnell, 26, of Aurora, following a brief hearing in her courtroom. While praising Schnell for serving her fellow inmates through programs like literacy tutoring, Pittman told her she "took a part of the innocence" of both her victim, who was an Aurora High School student in spring 2011, and the community of Aurora by having sexual relations with him.
"I have to show that our courts will not tolerate this behavior from a man or a woman," Pittman said.
Seeking the early release, which was entirely up to the judge's discretion, Schnell told Pittman prison has given her "ample time to process the unruliness of my actions" and the "complete disregard for (the victim's) emotions."
She said she "inflicted trauma on an innocent person," was "immensely sorry" for the "malevolence of my past choices" and wants the chance to "remake myself as someone who makes good choices."
Defense attorney George Keith said his client has already served 10 months of her 24-month sentence. He said she "immediately confessed" the illegal sexual relationship took place in May and June 2011 when confronted by Portage County Sheriff's Office investigators, who investigated the case along with Aurora and Streetsboro police.
Keith said Schnell has been trouble-free in prison with "no write-ups. In addition to writing a letter of remorse to the court, Schnell has been tutoring illiterate inmates at the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville, will regularly see a psychologist, has a job waiting for her at an insurance agency upon her release and plans to re-enroll in college and live with her parents.
Assistant Portage County Prosecutor Steve Michniak said his office did not object to Schnell's release, and asked Pittman only to place her on intensive probation and suspend the remainder of her prison term so that she would be ordered to serve the complete term if she re-offended or violated probation.
Pittman sentenced Schnell to two years in prison on May 11, 2012, after accepting her guilty plea on a charge of sexual battery, a third-degree felony. By law, teachers in Ohio schools may not have sexual relationships with their students, even if those students consent or are of the age of consent in Ohio, which is 16.
Pittman ordered Schnell to permanently surrender her teaching license and have no contact with the victim in the case. Schnell also was labeled a Tier III sex offender, and must register her address with her local sheriff's office every 90 days for the rest of her life upon release from prison. Her neighbors and local schools, daycare facilities and other police agencies also may be notified of her release and location, according to the law.
Schnell's scheduled release date from her prison sentence is May 2014, according to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections. Led away to await a return to prison following the hearing, Schnell mouthed "I love you" to her parents and supporters seated in the gallery.
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