By Janie Bryant
She said it was consensual.
She was 16. He was 37 – a popular football coach, more than twice her age.
Not in Virginia. And not in most states.
All states have laws that deal with sex between minors and adults, when force is not a factor. And though they’re often called statutory rape offenses, few states use that as the legal term for the criminal charge, according to a report done for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Cedric Cradle Clarence Sykes Marc A. Allmond
Virginia, like many states, breaks up its laws by age of the minor.
Adults who have consensual sex with teens 15 or older are charged with a misdemeanor – contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
The former Churchland High School coach was charged with two counts of indecent liberties with a minor while in a supervisory or custodial role.
Jurors this month convicted him of one count and could have given him up to five years in prison. They decided he should pay a $2,500 fine and serve no time.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Earle C. Mobley was shocked.
“Juries do unusual things sometimes, and they see things that perhaps we as lawyers don’t,” he said.
But no incarceration for such an offender is not unusual, according to Jody Fridley, a spokesman for the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission.
Fridley said many details go into sentencing, but that generally if a defendant has no prior record, he or she would be looking at a suspended prison or jail sentence. Cradle had no prior felonies.
There are other consequences, though, Mobley pointed out.
Cradle is a convicted felon now, and he will be on the state’s sex offender registry.
Mobley said that contrary to the message the jury sent in the Cradle case, the offenses are serious.
“The sanctity of the school is paramount,” he said.
“We will continue to prosecute any members of the school that have any inappropriate contact with students.”
And they will seek active prison sentences, Mobley said.
- On March 13, a preliminary hearing is scheduled for Clarence Sykes, 57, a former Norcom High School music teacher charged with indecent liberties with a minor more than 30 years ago.
Unlike the other cases, the alleged victim was not a student.
Still Mobley had argued for no bond, saying the teacher indicated to police there were 11 other potential victims in Lynchburg, where Sykes lived years ago. Mobley was unsuccessful, and Sykes is on house arrest.
- On March 14, Marc A. Allmond, 30, a former algebra teacher and junior varsity football coach at Norcom, will be sentenced for carnal knowledge of a minor and taking indecent liberties while in a supervisory relationship.
Under a plea agreement, a third charge was not prosecuted. There was no agreement as to sentencing, and Allmond could get up to 15 years.
- Cradle will be sentenced April 30.
Mobley said the judge cannot exceed the jury’s recommendation of the $2,500 fine.
Mobley said he plans to interview jurors when their names are released next month to find out why they did not give Cradle time.
But if someone does not have a prior record, there is no way to predict he or she would do this, the division said.
Pine also said it’s important that schools have an atmosphere where teachers and students feel free to report their concerns without fear of retaliation.
Churchland High School staff did act on their suspicions about Cradle.
In Cradle’s case, the victim testified that the sexual relationship was consensual.
Teens who are victims of these crimes might feel as if it is consensual at the age of 15 or 16, but they often need counseling as they mature, Pine said.
They struggle with the same feelings of shame and guilt that other victims do, Pine said.
Pine stressed that the issue of adults having sex with minors is not a new one, but what has changed is the awareness of the issue and willingness to report it to authorities.
Still, the idea that any adult who has sex with someone under the age of 18 is going to jail is a common misconception, she said.
Pine said she probably gets a call once a week from an angry parent whose child has been a victim.
“They’ll say the police can’t do anything, and that can’t be right.”
The sentences for such actions may not have caught up with the times, she said.
“We see a lot of acquittals,” she said, and “a lot of very short sentences.”
Still, it’s criminal behavior. For some people, that’s part of the attraction, Pine said.
Mostly, for the adult who becomes involved with a young teen, it is about “power and control over somebody else,” she said.
“Otherwise they would be dating and having sex relations with someone their age.”