8 to 25 years in prison for Abigail Simon

Abigail Simon at sentencing. (Jan. 14, 2015)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Abigail Simon, the former Catholic Central tutor convicted of having sex with a 15-year-old student, was sentenced Wednesday to 8 to 25 years in prison despite her plea for mercy.

“I’m asking you to take a chance on me,” Simon, 35, told Judge Paul Sullivan during a sometimes tearful statement that went on for about 10 minutes.

She appeared to collapse twice during the hearing, which lasted more than two hours.

Simon cried that she was tired and wanted to go home. “I’m lost and I’m broken,” she said.

She also continued to maintain that she was the victim, that the student, now 17, was the aggressor — a story the jury did not believe when it convicted her in late November on three counts of first-degree sexual assault and one count of accosting a child for immoral purposes.

“I was overtaken by fear, scared and lost, felt like I was drowning,” she told the judge. “I’m sorry I was not strong enough to get away from him.”

>>Gallery: Tutor trial day by day

She acknowledged that prosecutors had offered her a plea deal — with a maximum five months in jail — but said she turned it down because she did nothing wrong.

The judge said that while Simon is not a predator and isn’t likely to re-offend, she knew it was wrong and had every chance to end the relationship. The judge also said the victim had some “culpability,” because he also knew it was wrong. Under state law, the victim was too young to consent to sex.

The victim did not speak during the hearing, but his mom did, lashing out at Simon’s defense attorney, Mike Manley, for painting her son as a rapist and dragging her family “through the mud.”

Manley had argued that the petite Simon, then 33, was intimidated into having sex with the then-15-year-old, who is 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds. Prosecutors called that the “theater of the absurd.” They relied on the victim’s testimony, as well as thousands of texts between the tutor and victim.

The victim’s mom said it was Simon who “took advantage” of her son, who was “under her spell,” then talked him into taking the blame.

“She used him to please herself,” she said.

She said her son “has experienced a lot of pain and suffering in his short life. A huge percentage of it was caused by Abigail Simon’s actions.”

“This theater of the absurd has closed its curtain,” the mom told the judge. “I ask you to be severe in your sentencing.”

During the hearing, Manley angrily defended his defense, which he said has been “vilified.” He said it was the victim who set it in motion when he at first told police he was the aggressor, then said the same during an initial court hearing.

“It’s not a defense we made up. It’s not a defense we created,” Manley said.

“To get treated like we have been treated, the things that have been said, on a defense based on facts, is wrong,” Manley said.

The verdict followed a dramatic 11-day trial in which her defense team argued that Simon was the victim and that the boy, now 17, was the aggressor. The victim testified for four days; the tutor also took the witness stand.

The case is similar to the conviction of former South Christian Spanish teacher and bowling coach James Valkema, who was 32, when he had a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old female student in 2010. He is serving 8 to 40 years in prison on two counts of first-degree sexual assault.

Other recent high-profile cases involving educators and students also led to prison time.

Former Major League baseball players Chad Curtis, convicted of less-serious sex crimes against teen girls while he volunteered as a high school weight-room trainer, is serving 7 to 15 years in prison. Jamila Williams, the former teacher at Grand Rapids University Prep Academy, got 8 to 15 years in prison, also for less-serious convictions.

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