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Sex Assault Case-Gehrkens Sentenced To Nine Months In Prison

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Sex Assault Case—

Gehrkens Sentenced To Nine Months In Prison

By Andrew Gorosko

WATERBURY — A sobbing Jillian Gehrkens, with her wrists handcuffed behind her back, was led from a courtroom by several judicial marshals on Thursday, July 26, to a serve a nine-month prison term for her conviction on a second-degree sexual assault charge.

The sentence stems from Ms Gehrkens’ illegal yearlong sexual relationship with an underage male Newtown High School student, while she formerly worked at the high school as a school guidance intern.

Eight family members, including Ms Gehrkens’ husband, Peter, sat at the rear of Courtroom 2-B as Waterbury Superior Court Judge Joan K. Alexander pronounced sentence on the 28-year-old Middlebury woman.

The mother of the victim sat at the front of the courtroom behind Assistant State’s Attorney John Davenport, who prosecuted the case.

Mr Davenport told Judge Alexander that in 2005, Newtown police had learned of an ongoing sexual relationship between Ms Gehrkens and the unidentified underage victim, after which they began an investigation. Police obtained physical evidence for their case in the form of computer content, which was seized from the victim. Also, the victim provided police with testimony about his sexual relationship with Ms Gehrkens.

State law lists eight situations that constitute second-degree sexual assault. Ms Gehrkens pleaded guilty to the offense last January as it applies to school employees and students. In that situation, the offender is a school employee and the victim is a student where the offender works.

Ms Gehrkens had worked as an NHS guidance office intern from January 2004 to January 2005. While an NHS intern, she was affiliated with Western Connecticut State University in Danbury as a graduate student.

In August 2005, Middlebury police arrested Ms Gehrkens on two counts of second-degree sexual assault and one count of risk of injury or impairing the morals of a minor charge because those crimes had occurred at her Middlebury home.

In September 2005, Newtown police charged Ms Gehrkens with violation of conditions of release after Ms Gehrkens had made contact with the victim in Newtown, after the judge at her court arraignment had ordered her to have no such contact with the victim as one of the conditions of her release from custody.

The nine-month prison sentence is the result of a plea bargain agreement, under which Ms Gehrkens pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree sexual assault and also pleaded guilty to one count of violation of the conditions of release. Nine months’ imprisonment is the minimum mandatory sentence for a second-degree sexual assault conviction, which holds a maximum sentence of ten years’ imprisonment.

A nine-month prison sentence for Ms Gehrkens for the violation of conditions of release conviction will run concurrently.

Until her sentencing, Ms Gehrkens, who had been on limited house arrest, had been free on $25,000 bail.

In the plea bargain, the state agreed to not prosecute the second count of second-degree sexual assault and also to not prosecute the risk of injury charge.

Last November, the state had recommended that Ms Gehrkens serve four years in prison, but the final plea agreement placed that prison term at nine months.

Within the two weeks before her sentencing, Ms Gehrkens gave birth to a second daughter, Tess. It was that birth and the birth of her first daughter, Georgia, in the spring of 2006, which posed court delays in settling the criminal case.

Dressed in crisp business attire and wearing a taut ponytail during her past court appearances, Ms Gehrkens wore casual clothes with her shoulder-length hair worn down at her July 26 sentencing. She did not speak during the court proceedings. She is serving her sentence at York Correctional Institution, a state prison in Niantic for female offenders that houses more than 1,350 inmates, according to the state Department of Correction. Her release date will be next April 25.

Victim’s Mother

In court, the victim’s mother’s voice broke with emotion as she read a statement to Judge Alexander.

The woman identified herself as “Tammy M.” to obscure the identity of her son, whose name authorities have not disclosed.

The victim’s mother said, in part, “[Gehrkens] took that special bond of student and teacher and abused it. She caused more damage to my son in a year and a half, than a life of neglect may have caused….He is only just beginning to see the harm done to him. But the ability to see that he was a victim means that he also is now beginning the healing process.

“I hope that for the next nine months, while she is incarcerated, that every night she cries herself to sleep because she misses her children [and] that she realizes that…has been my life,” the victim’s mother added.

The victim’s mother urged Ms Gehrkens to get counseling and to learn how to be the best mother that she can become.

The woman added that she hopes the Gehrkens case serves as a warning to sexual abusers that such teacher-student sexual relationships will no longer be tolerated and that sexual abusers will be imprisoned for harming students.

“Hopefully, other cases being tried [in court] will use this as an example and realize that a simple slap on the wrist will no longer be tolerated as a punishment,” she said.

The victim is now a college student. The youth was 15 when his sexual relationship with Ms Gehrkens began, police have said. 

Technically, Judge Alexander sentenced Ms Gehrkens to seven years in prison on the sexual assault conviction, which will be suspended after she serves the minimum mandatory nine months of imprisonment. If Ms Gehrkens should violate any of the numerous conditions of her ten-year probation following her prison term, she would be liable to return to prison to serve the balance of her seven-year suspended sentence.

Also, after leaving prison, Ms Gehrkens will be placed on the state’s Internet sex offender registry for ten years.

The terms of her probation include that Ms Gehrkens have no contact whatsoever with the victim or the victim’s family; that she complete outpatient psychological counseling; that her employment not bring her into contact with minors, and that she not be arrested for other offenses, among other conditions.

Representing Ms Gehrkens, attorney William F. Dow III of New Haven said that the court case has resulted in Ms Gehrkens maturing significantly. “She has grown significantly as a person,” he said.

Ms Gehrkens made mistakes and errors in judgment, he said.

Mr Dow said he hopes Ms Gehrkens can endure nine months in prison. The lawyer referred to a letter from Ms Gehrkens’ physician describing the medical care she would need in light of her recently having given birth.

Ms Gehrkens had been scheduled to be sentenced in May, but her pregnancy, among other factors, resulted in the sentencing being delayed.

 

The Judge Comments

Judge Alexander termed Ms Gehrkens’ crime “a very troubling case.”

Parents should have the peace of mind that those people who are entrusted with the care of their children will not harm their children, she said.

As such, the minimum prison sentence of nine months is an appropriate punishment in the case, the judge said.

Children are at risk whether or not they have consented to sexual contact, she said. 

Educators are charged with the care of children, and thus must be held to a higher standard, the judge said.

In a letter to the court, the victim explained that he has come to a realization of what had occurred to him, Judge Alexander said.

Although there was no aspect of force involved in the relationship, in such cases the victim’s perspective on relationships becomes skewed due to the stealth with which the relationship was conducted, she said.

“The mandatory [sentence] will not be set aside and cannot be set aside,” she said.

 Judge Alexander warned that that if such student-teacher relationships do not stop in the broader society, the state legislature would take action to increase the minimum mandatory prison terms for convictions in such second-degree sexual assault cases. 

After Judge Alexander pronounced the sentence, judicial marshals handcuffed the sobbing Ms Gehrkens’ hands behind her back and led her from the courtroom.

After court, Mr Dow advised Ms Gehrkens’ relatives about how to make contact with Ms Gehrkens while she is incarcerated.

In response to a reporter’s query, Mr Dow said, “This is a young woman who had made a significant error in judgment due to emotional immaturity.” Ms Gehrkens has learned much about herself during the past two years, he said.

Mr Davenport has said that the state will pursue such sexual assault cases, in which a female is the offender and a male is the victim, as aggressively as it pursues cases in which a male is the offender and a female is the victim.

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