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No one in court Monday morning questioned Whitney Chiles’ ability to teach children.
But it was the lessons the former Lima City Schools intervention specialist taught a 15-year-old former student at her Ada home which sent her to prison for four years during her sentencing hearing in Hardin County Common Pleas Court.
Chiles pleaded guilty in March to one count of sexual conduct with a minor. Charges of sexual battery, corrupting with drugs and sexual imposition were dropped in negotiations which led to her guilty plea. Prosecutor Brad Bailey also said he would not oppose an early release for the defendant. Judge William Hart could release Chiles after six months in prison.
At her sentencing Monday, her attorney, William Kluge, portrayed his client as a lonely, professional mother who committed an act of “monumental stupidity.” From an early age, he said, she had wanted to educate and assist young people and she had met that goal.
“For years,” said Kluge, “her evaluations were excellent in that regard … She is a person who went out of her way to help children.”
One of the students Chiles took an interest in was a young teen who had advanced in school beyond her class. The two continued to share interests in music and when he stopped by the school to pick up his younger brother from the school, the boy frequently stopped by Chiles’ room. The visits were noticed by the school administrators who told Chiles the visits were to stop, said Kluge.
“I looked out for him,” Chiles told the court. “I tried to keep him out of trouble. I tutored him. We were friends.”
But Chiles was lonely, said Kluge. She was married and had a four-year-old son at a home in Ada. Her husband came home from work and played games on the computer until it was time to go to bed, said the attorney.
“There was little social exchange and a lot of loneliness there,” said Kluge.
School was closed on Feb. 18, 2011, and Chiles, who was 29 at that time, arranged to pick up the 15-year-old in Lima and take him with her to her home. They planned to “hang out,” watch movies and talk, said Kluge.
Prosecutor Brad Bailey said when the teacher and teenager arrived, they had come too early. Chiles’ husband hadn’t left the home yet. After he departed for work, the pair entered the house, but after a while went outside to smoke a cigarette.
“He brought marijuana,” said Kluge. “And yes, she smoked it with him.”
The pair returned to the house, where Chiles said they ate some chips and watched movies.
“Then he started kissing me,” she told the court. “I told him I didn’t want that and started to push him off. But I couldn’t do it. I gave in to him.”
It was a long day together, said Bailey. Chiles took the boy back to Lima at 4 p.m. and he told her he was hungry. She gave him $20 for a meal, but her attorney said that was not the last time Chiles paid the victim. He threatened to reveal their encounter to officials if she didn’t pay him extortion payments, said Kluge. The payments were ten to twenty dollars in the beginning, but soon rose to $50 per week for his silence.
“As long as he got his $50 a week, he was not going to do anything,” said Kluge.
But Bailey said the investigation by his department revealed a different motive for the payments. Chiles kept “bugging” him and the only way to “keep her off his back” was to threaten her, the prosecutor said.
The victim didn’t turn Chiles in, said Bailey, but teachers shared the story they heard with administrators at the school.
“That started the investigation and the wheels rolling by the state,” said Bailey.
Since the charges were filed, Chiles’ husband died as the result of a heart attack, leaving the former teacher to raise a four-year-old son on her own. The child will stay with family members while Chiles goes to prison, said Kluge.
‘She said goodbye to her four-year-old son this morning,” said the attorney. “I think that hammered home what she did was wrong and illegal. Her goals lay in ruin along the side of the road. Obviously she will never teach again.”
“This was a terrible year for my son and myself,” Chiles told Hart. “I know I must accept responsibility for the actions I took. I hope you agree with the state’s recommendation for six months so I’m not away from my son so long. He needs his mommy since he doesn’t have his daddy any more.”
But the prison term suggested by the agreement was not for six months, Hart noted. It is for four years. The decision to release Chiles from prison before she serves her four years lies with Hart alone, the judge said. His decision, said Hart, will be based on how Chiles handles herself while she is incarcerated.
“There is no guarantee you will be out in six months,” said Hart. “I don’t want you leaving here today thinking you will be out in six months.”
Regardless of her intent that day, he continued, Chiles was charged with having sexual conduct with a minor, which she admitted was true.
“You used your position of authority and trust to facilitate this happening in this event,” said Hart.
In addition to the four years in prison, Hart sentenced Chiles to pay a fine of $250 and classified her as a Tier II sexual offender.
Chiles crossed the “blurred” line between helping people and victimizing them, said Hart.
“This is a sad situation,” said Bailey. “There are no winners in this type of case. Just victims.”
By DAN ROBINSON
Times staff writer