ABC News Exclusive: Kelsey Peterson Opens Up in Jailhouse Interview

ABC News Exclusive: Kelsey Peterson on affair with student, fleeing to Mexico.

ByABC News
September 30, 2008, 8:24 PM

Oct. 1, 2008— -- Nebraska teacher Kelsey Peterson thought that one day she'd have her perfect life: husband, kids, white picket fence. But instead, a judge sentenced her Monday to six years in federal prison.

That's because last October Peterson was on the run to Mexico with one of her former students, whom authorities said was 13 years old at the time of their relationship.

"If I could go back and be that person that I was supposed to be, I would do it in a second," Peterson said in an exclusive jailhouse interview with ABC News.

The person she was supposed to be, in her words, is "that teacher that got married, had a family and, you know, that normal, white picket fence, small town all-American girl. That's the life I wanted. That's all I wanted."

The sixth-grade schoolteacher comes from a stable family. "My parents were high school sweethearts; they grew up in small-town Nebraska," said Peterson.

"That's the life I'm used to. Nobody in my family is divorced, no one drinks, no one smokes. I mean, I grew up in this really Christian we-don't-do-things-wrong kind of family, and that's all I wanted.

"And yet, I made choice after choice after choice that didn't allow that to happen, and I have to pay those consequences, and I understand that," she said.

The choices Peterson made started when she began a sexual relationship with then 12-year-old Fernando Rodriguez, a sexually-active sixth-grade student with a crush on her.

"I remember him specifically asking me in the middle of class one day if I would marry him," she recalled. "And I can remember really being caught off-guard and laughing about it and saying, 'look me up when you're 18.'"

Peterson was living with her family and teaching middle school math in Lexington, Neb., a town of 12,000 in the heart of the Cornhusker State.

Less than 10 years before, she was a student there herself. Returning to Lexington after college in nearby Kearney, she quickly became one of the school's most popular teachers. Students began to recognize her as someone who understood their problems.

"A lot of them, if they find someone they trust, they want to hang out with you or talk to you. And I had a lot of kids that knew they could trust me and held a lot of confidence in me," she said.

In Rodriguez, Peterson saw a student with promise, but also signs he was a gang member.

"Something drew me to him. I think more than anything it was, 'I can change this guy. I can make this person a better person.'"

But Peterson's lawyer said Rodriguez had something else in mind.

"From the beginning, he was trying to entice her. There's no question about that," James Martin Davis said. "He would try to kiss her, he would grab her, he would do these things. She didn't initiate this relationship. That young man did."