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Farmington » Before being sentenced to prison for three years to life, a sobbing Bountiful Junior High teacher apologized to the former student she sexually abused last year.
"I am so sorry for the pain you have been through ... as a result of my completely selfish actions," 46-year-old Linda Nef told the boy, who was 13 years old at the time.
Nef also apologized to "educators everywhere whose reputations have been damaged by my actions and former students who have lost faith in teachers because of me."
Second District Judge Rodney Page agreed Nef had broken the trust of her students.
"I know the esteem and worship and adulation children have for a good teacher," Page said. "I don't doubt that you were a good teacher, but in our society we esteem our teachers to be among the most honorable professionals and we entrust them with our most important commodity, our children."
Page added that many in the community believe blame rests with the victim and that he had aggressively pursued Nef in the relationship. "I do not share that opinion," Page said, "and I would say neither does Ms. Nef."
And although she came forward and told police what she had done, the judge wondered if she acted in the belief that the relationship was about to be exposed anyway.
Nef, who taught Utah social studies and was a cheerleading adviser, was originally charged with first-degree felony counts of rape of a child and sodomy on a child, which carry mandatory prison terms of 25 years to life.
She pleaded guilty last month to first-degree felony attempted aggravated sexual abuse of a child -- a deal supported by the victim and his family that gave Page the option of imposing either probation or the prison sentence of three years to life.
Attorney Greg Skordas, representing the boy and his family, urged the judge to impose probation, noting that Nef has already lost her job and her dignity. "At some point, enough is enough," Skordas said.
Nef's defense attorney, Sean Druyon, quoted from a letter written by the boy and his family that said: "Mrs. Nef is not a dangerous person. She is person in dire need of counseling."
Druyon asked the judge to consider probation for Nef in part because she is the primary caretaker of her three children. Her husband, a truck driver, is often away from home, Druyon said. He also cited a psycho-sexual evaluation that found Nef was not a pedophile and not a danger to re-offend.
He said the relationship between Nef and the boy began the summer after the child had been a student of Nef's. She wanted to help the boy, who was depressed and had problems with his parents, Druyon said.
The two exchanged text messages and shared conversations that eventually escalated into several sexual encounters. Druyon said Nef should have directed the boy to a school counselor or contacted his parents instead of becoming emotionally involved with the child.
But he said Nef didn't reach out to the boy with the intention to "groom" him for sex.
"She has been beating herself up like crazy. She has always said, 'This is my fault, this is my responsibility,' " Druyon said.
Page said the fact that Nef came forward to confess her crime doesn't undo damage done to her young victim.
He said the woman had a responsibility to stop the relationship before it started, adding that many students develop "puppy love" for their educators.
"Which one of us hasn't had a teacher that we didn't think was one of the most beautiful people in the world?" he asked.
Page said probation didn't fit Nef's crime, but added he hasn't "slept very well" in weighing what to do with her case. He noted that his wife and two daughters are teachers.
Supporters of Nef filled nearly three rows in the courtroom. Many cried as she was handcuffed and taken into custody.
A case against another Bountiful Junior High teacher charged for having sex with the same boy is still unresolved. Valynne Bowers, a 40-year-old math teacher, is scheduled for a preliminary hearing on Aug. 28 before Judge Michael Allphin.
Bowers is charged with rape and forcible sodomy, first-degree felonies punishable by maximum prison terms of 15 years to life.
Bowers was charged with less serious counts because the boy was 14 during their relationship, which lasted from Jan. 2 until Feb. 27, according to charging documents.
Nef, who reported both herself and Bowers to police, had a sexual relationship with the student from Jan. 1, 2008, through Feb. 14, 2008.