Former agri teacher pleads guilty to two felony sexual assault charges
He's not going to jail.
Steven Mitchell, the former Melbourne High School agriculture teacher who was charged with multiple felonies last year after he coerced male students into committing sex acts, was sentenced to five years of probation Aug. 23 by Izard County Circuit Court Judge Tim Weaver.
Weaver also ordered Mitchell, 30, to register as a sex offender, attend counseling for pedophiles and stay away from his victims.
Mitchell's trial was slated to begin at 8:30 a.m. but a plea agreement was reached between 16th Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney Don McSpadden and Mitchell's attorneys, Gray Dellinger and Jack Lassiter.
In accordance with the plea deal, Mitchell pleaded guilty to two felony counts of sexual assault, both class B felonies.
The other four felony charges and eight misdemeanor charges were dropped.
A conviction on all counts could have landed Mitchell in prison for 96 years and he could have been fined up to $106,000.
"This is what the victims' families want and that, in turn, is what the state wants," McSpadden said.
According to the arrest affidavit, Mitchell encouraged four former students to commit sex acts with themselves and him from the spring of 2002 to the spring of 2004.
The alleged incidents occurred at the Melbourne High School Agriculture Building and on school sponsored Future Farmers of America trips.
Investigator Becky Vacco with the Arkansas State Police said Mitchell, who was an FFA sponsor, would instigate "size contests" in which male students would stand in a circle and expose their genitalia.
"Exposure is the first step in getting children to cooperate in other acts," McSpadden said.
One victim said he and Mitchell committed lewd acts in the girls' bathroom inside Agriculture Building.
The victim said Mitchell tried to entice him into engaging in oral sex, but the student refused.
Before passing the sentence, Weaver asked the victims' families if they were satisfied with the plea deal.
"Does anyone have a problem with the plea agreement?" Weaver said. None of the victims or families responded.
After the sentence was imposed, Weaver gave the victims and their parents the opportunity to publically speak to Mitchell.
None of the victims or their parents chose to speak.
As Mitchell left the courtroom the gallery began to clap and cheer.
Weaver said the jury played a role in the plea agreement.
"Sometimes it just takes a jury sitting over there in the box to get these things rolling," Weaver said.
Outside the courtroom, two of the victims smiled and one said he was "glad it was all over."
One victim's mother, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said she was pleased with the decision.
"He (Mitchell) didn't get what he deserved, but he had to admit to what he did in front of his wife, parents, grandparents and everybody else," she said as tears filled her eyes. "I'm glad his life will never be the same, just like the kids he hurt."
Melbourne Superintendent Gerald Cooper said he hopes his students can move forward now that the trial is over.
"We're ready to start concentrating on the books," Cooper said.
The Melbourne School District fired Mitchell after he was charged last year. Prior to the allegations, Mitchell had been promoted to assistant principal at Melbourne High School.
Mitchell filed a civil suit against the school district for wrongful termination.
Cooper said Mitchell could lose his teaching license due to his conviction, but that decision will have to be made by the state Board of Education.
He said the civil suit between Mitchell and the Melbourne School District has not been resolved.