A popular Ohio high school gym teacher has been sentenced to four years in jail after a judge rejected her insanity defense and convicted her on 16 counts of sexual battery for sleeping with several of her former students.
Stacy Schuler, a former gym and health teacher, had sex with five former students, some of whom were football players, at the school in suburban Cincinnati, where she taught since 2000. During her trial, which ended Thursday, Schuler's lawyers defended her actions with explanations ranging from her vegan diet, the use of the antidepressants, blackouts from alcohol and even irritable bowel syndrome, claiming it rendered her unable to determine right from wrong.
Although several students testified on her behalf, the decision to reject the defense prompted some tough words from the judge hearing Schuler's case, who said it would be a "magnificent leap" believing she had no idea her actions were wrong.
"This is a noble profession that you have, and I've heard a lot of good things about you, but I know that you had the opportunity, as all teachers do, to affect the lives of our children," Warren County Common Pleas Judge Robert Peeler said. "You crossed a line."
Parents of the victims also had harsh words for the woman who was once considered an inspirational educator at Mason High School.
"She groomed these boys, she took advantage of their vulnerabilities she crossed the line and it is unacceptable," one of the victim's mothers said.
After an anonymous tip earlier this year, Schuler, 33, was arrested for inappropriate activities with students, which included providing them alcohol and marijuana and having sex with them at her home.
Five of Schuler's former students testified that the popular teacher had been drinking when she initiated the sexual contact. Most of the boys were 17 at the time; although the age of consent in Ohio is 16, it's illegal for a teacher to have sex with a student.
"We had no idea that this was going to happen, and we're like what is going on? We think she wants to have sex with us," one of the victims said in court. "She started giving us all back massages. She like gave us all each individually … we all took our shirts off and she was just rubbing down our backs."
Schuler, who did not testify at her trial, pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, with her defense team arguing that her mental illness and a mix of anti-depressants and alcohol impaired her ability to tell right from wrong. She claims to have no memory of the incidents.
"The combined effects of the use of Zoloft and moderate to heavy alcohol consumption are consistent with abhorrent behavior described as well as the memory lapses," Harry Plotnick, the defense team's toxicologist, testified.
The prosecution claimed that Schuler knew exactly what she was doing, and even how she would protect herself if she ever caught.
"She told me that if anybody ever found out that she already had her defense planned out and she would try and say that she was insane," one of the students said in court.
One of the victim's fathers testified at the trial of how his son was negatively affected by Schuler's actions.
"He suffered from depression, loss of motivation … almost didn't go to college -- he was angry at home and he didn't want to be around family or anyone -- my son was not who he used to be," the father said.
It took the judge 45 minutes to make his decision to convict Schuler on 16 felony counts of sexual battery and three misdemeanor counts of providing alcohol to minors.
Although Schuler declined to comment on her own behalf after her sentencing, she cried as she was handcuffed and led out of the courtroom, The Associated Press reported.
Sentenced to four years in jail, Schuler will be eligible for parole in six month, but she will be labeled a sexual offender and required to register her address every 90 days for the rest of her life.