Thursday, November 12, 2009
Former teacher sentenced
By SUE WATSON
A former music teacher at Marshall Academy was sentenced Thursday to two years in prison, two years house arrest and five years probation by circuit court judge Henry L. Lackey.
Chris Mirante of Red Banks had entered an open plea to four counts of touching a child for lustful purposes on September 1 of this year.
Mirante, under Lackey’s sentencing, will also be required to pay a $3,000 fine to the county and undergo psychological therapy while incarcerated and after his release from prison. His therapist will be required to report to the court on Mirante’s progress and Mirante will be required to register as a sex offender.
Three witnesses offered mitigating testimony on Mirante’s behalf, asked for a fair sentence, saying he has shown sincere remorse before his church, his family and to individuals.
Four witnesses, two of them plaintiffs in the case, provided aggravating testimony. They asked Lackey to consider how Mirante’s actions affected the victims’ lives and their families. They believed Mirante should serve time in prison but also that he should receive therapy so the acts are not repeated on others.
Two of the plaintiffs said they chose to come forward and press charges against the former music and drama teacher because they did not want those young ladies that would follow them to suffer the same consequences.
Witnesses for the plaintiffs spoke of intense personal guilt feelings that have lingered after the incidents.
Mirante read a lengthy statement in court, apologizing for the hurt he had caused to the community, his church, the students and his family. At times he cried while saying he was sorry. He also talked at length about how his family and he have suffered because of his actions.
Tears were shed on the right side of the courtroom where Mirante’s family and friends sat as well as on the left side of the courtroom where family and friends of the plaintiffs sat. Weeping continued throughout Mirante’s statements as well as during the testimony given on behalf of the plaintiffs.
Mirante said he thinks what everyone wants out of the sentencing is closure.
“I made a mistake,” he said. “I wish I could go back and make it all go away. I beg you to give me a shot to redeem myself.”
The plaintiffs said it was hard to tell their parents and they only did so after they couldn’t deal with the guilt feelings anymore. One victim said she felt bad her parents had to go through the ordeal and she felt she had disappointed her parents.
Witnesses for the plaintiffs and the defendant reported many sleepless nights. One plaintiff said she has forgiven Miranti, but that he should be punished because she has suffered consequences as well.
One mother of a plaintiff said it was not fair for the girls to be dragged through the mud; that they saved the next group of girls who could have become victims.
Mirante’s attorney, Kent Smith, presented several cases of a similar nature and provided the court with those sentences which varied from house arrest to some prison time, mixed with service in prison and some house arrest after release.
“I would ask the court for a merciful sentence,” he said, suggesting three years house arrest because Mirante came forward to law enforcement, to his church and resigned his job.
In closing for the state, assistant district attorney Christine Tatum read the statutes supporting the charges, including that Mirante was in a position of trust. She said the young ladies were vulnerable at an age when teens crave attention.
“We all agree he was a great music teacher,” she said. “That was his weapon. We all love music. I asked all the girls what it was that made them good victims and they all pretty much said they (felt like they) were outcasts and didn’t come from the right families. Getting attention from someone everyone wanted attention from, that shows the predator behavior (in Mirante).
“He wants to redeem himself and he has that opportunity. Everything he wants to do he can do after he pays society.
“Mr. Mirante is an actor. I appreciate how good an actor he is. He may be sincere in his remorse. Part of the time is to give some time for the punishment he deserves.”
Judge Lackey said sentencing is the most difficult time in a judge’s life. He received letters asking for serious penalties and others asking for virtually no penalty, he said.
“I’ve had experience having a child going to a private school (while Lackey studied law) and I had to pay for tuition,” Lackey said. “I know how hard it is to pay that tuition. Most families do it because they are doing what is best for the child and they expect a dollar’s (worth) and a person who has their children at heart.
“As I travel down this path in life I see many people who squandered their talents by making bad decisions. Mr. Mirante made a terrible decision. Young ladies, their emotions are fragile and sometimes they can be precocious. But we adults should help guard them against those emotions. The power to take a person’s liberty for a time is awesome. I do not take it lightly.”
Lackey said he had to take Mirante’s family into consideration and the children as well.
“The families are the ones who always suffer the most,” he said. “He (Mirante) will be acclimated to prison but his family won’t be. The families of these young ladies will suffer because they will wonder if this will come back to haunt them for the rest of their lives. You youngsters are well above average. You can hold your heads up because you sat in that witness chair and told the truth, and were brave enough and concerned enough to take action that a lot of adults would not have taken.
“I am so sorry for Mr. Mirante and his family. I don’t know if my sentence will be right or wrong, but this is my decision.”
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