A former Heritage Academy teacher was sentenced Thursday to five years in prison after pleading guilty to abusing a student in the 1970s.
Robert William Becker, 77, of Hagerstown, pleaded guilty Thursday morning in Washington County District Court to a third-degree sexual act with a minor victim for incidents that occurred in the 1970s in his office at the westside Christian school. of Hagerstown. As part of the deal, a charge of child abuse by guardian was dismissed.
After hearing from the victim, who was 10 years old at the time of at least one of the incidents in late 1976, her husband? and Becker’s grown son. Judge Mark K. Boyer took a one-hour recess to read letters submitted in support of Becker from family, friends and former students and colleagues.
More:“I was groomed for sexual abuse within the walls of Heritage Academy,” says the accuser
When court resumed in the afternoon, Boyer heard from one more Becker supporter before commenting on the case and sentencing Becker.
Becker’s actions against the victim in the 1970s “were no longer mere allegations” because Becker pleaded guilty, Boyer said.
The victim said Becker touched her under her clothing in the genital area on two separate occasions, according to a news release from the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.
Becker was a history and physical education teacher at the school during the incidents. He has also served on the school board.
Boyer said Becker’s behavior was “evil, predatory and destructive.” The former teacher “abused a position of trust” and caused “immeasurable” emotional and psychological harm to the victim, the judge said.
In sentencing Becker to 10 years in state prison with all but five years suspended, Boyer said the sentence was about punishment — but also deterrence.
A deterrent not only for Becker, but “others who hold positions of trust and responsibility for our children who we drop off at school in the morning.”
Previously:Former Heritage Academy teacher charged with child abuse
“You’re going to jail, sir,” Boyer said.
The victim said after the hearing that she was grateful to the judge for “taking a stand against school predators” and discouraging others in positions of power from “doing this.” He is now 56 years old. The Herald-Mail continues to refer to her using the pseudonym “Anita” to protect the identity of an abuse victim.
Anita said she was happy that the message “is getting out that even one child matters” and that people in positions of authority who work with children, such as teachers, should expect harsh punishment for such actions.
He said he did not feel “joyful” but “sober” because he realizes the pain Becker and his family were going through.
“My heart goes out to his family,” who are grieving the loss of his presence in their lives, Anita said.
As the sentence was read, Becker did not utter a sound. His wife, in the courtroom, gasped and began to cry.
Becker gets credit for one day in jail. After his release, he will be on five years of supervised probation. During this probationary period, he must have no unsupervised contact with unrelated minors. He also must have no contact with the victim and undergo a mental health evaluation, Boyer said.
Becker, dressed in a suit, waved to his family as deputies escorted him past his wife and son and out of the courtroom.
Becker makes a statement before sentencing
After hearing a lengthy victim impact statement from Anita, Becker made his own statement in court before being sentenced.
“I would like to say that I am very, very sorry for the pain and hurt that I caused by not admitting to this act” in the mid-1970s, Becker said, reading a written statement and not looking at Anita in the gallery. .
Both Anita and Becker said the incidents haunted them.
“I don’t want to be a monster,” Becker said. “I love the Lord and I want to serve him.”
Weeping, Becker reiterated his regret for not admitting to touching Anita earlier.
“It was wrong on my part and I would ask for your forgiveness,” Becker said. “I have asked the Lord.”
Asked after the hearing if she had any comment on Becker’s request for forgiveness, Anita said she did not.
Deputy State Attorney Sarah Mollett-Gaumer, presenting her sentencing recommendation, told the court that Anita had not only been victimized by the abuse, but by her response to the disclosure of the incidents. This included the response from her school, family and peers.
More references:Did Heritage Academy fully investigate allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct? It is unclear
Reached by phone Thursday afternoon after the hearing ended, Heritage Academy Principal Dave Hobbs said, “No thanks,” when asked if he wanted to comment on Becker’s appeal, motion and comments made during the hearing.
Other than a woman who spoke on Becker’s behalf and said she had worked as an accountant at the school, no one from the school appeared to be at the hearing.
Other sentencing estimates in a 1970s sex-assault case
In her earlier court presentation, Mollett-Gummer said the state is recommending 10 years with all but 18 months suspended to be served in the Washington County Detention Center.
The incident occurred in the 1970s, before sentencing guidelines and the sex offender registry, Mollett-Gaumer said. Therefore, Becker cannot be placed in the registry. He said current sentencing guidelines call for one to six years.
Before the judge considered sentencing, Assistant District Attorney Lauren R. Villa mentioned Becker’s medical history, including his high blood pressure and diabetes. He also said Becker had cooperated with the sheriff’s office investigation and admitted to the inappropriate contact. Without that confirmation, Villa said she didn’t know how a trial might have gone.
Both Villa and Boyer noted that there were no additional casualties.
Mollett-Gaumer told the court the detective tried to “turn over every stone” about allegations of other incidents, but none of those allegations rose to the level of criminal charges.
Victim in 1970s school sex abuse case takes her turn to speak out
Anita told the court that Becker’s actions “affected the beginning of my life and every day since he repeatedly abused me.”
As a 10-year-old, she stood “frozen and confused” during the abuse, she said. As an adult, she and her husband have suffered from the abuse she suffered at the hands of Becker, Anita said.
“He is the destroyer of lives” and “not the man of God that others thought he was,” he said.
Becker treated not only her for the abuse, but also the Heritage Academy community, she said.
Anita said Becker accused her of ruining his life and family when, as a teenager, she brought her allegations to school officials.
During his silence over the past 46 years, he “never showed the slightest remorse for what he did to me,” she said.
Anita said Becker was “like a monster we see in our dreams, in our nightmares” and a “master manipulator” who “lied” for almost 40 years.
Becker didn’t look at Anita as she began reading the victim impact statement, but gradually turned her way a few times before looking at her.
“What’s a little girl worth?” Anita asked as she finished her statement. “For 46 years, Becker has repeatedly responded with little more than a few thrills.”
This article originally appeared in The Herald-Mail: Former Heritage Academy teacher convicted in 1970s sex abuse case