Justine Nelson didn’t deny that she’d performed a sexual act with a student. However, she claimed she’d been coerced into doing so.
As People reports, the 33-year-old pregnant mom is a former middle school teacher from Fresno, California. While still a teacher, Nelson was accused of sending nude photos of herself to an eighth-grade student and performing a sexual act on the boy in her classroom.
According to KFSN, Nelson’s trial verdict hinged on the boy’s age at the time she performed oral sex on him. The jury deliberated and determined the boy was 14, finding the former teacher guilty of the lesser charge of committing a sexual act on a minor.
Had she been convicted of the more serious charge of felony lewd or lascivious acts on a minor, she would have been facing a mandatory eight years in prison. Under the lesser charge, she could be sentenced for up to three years and is eligible for probation.
According to the Fresno Bee, prosecutors claimed Nelson had allowed a student-teacher relationship to develop into an improper one, sent nude photos to the boy, and lied about the relationship to authorities.
The student, who is now 16, testified that Nelson pursued the relationship and gave him oral sex multiple times in her classroom, both between classes and after school.
Nelson disagreed with the student’s account. While she admitted that she’d performed oral sex and sent photos, she claimed that she only did so because the student blackmailed her into it by threatening to reveal their relationship.
The former teacher said she was afraid the resulting scandal would result in her child being taken away. She maintained that she was coerced into the sex act.
After Nelson was convicted of the lesser charge, her attorney told the Bee that he planned to ask for probation, adding, “This young woman does not belong in prison.”
Nelson cried when the verdict was read. She told the Bee that it was a relief:
“I am just thankful it’s over. I can now move on with my life and focus on my family.”
Nelson will still have to register as a sex offender. The student and his family are currently suing the school district over the incident.