TAMPA — The mother wanted to know if her fifth-grader son was having a sexual relationship with his teacher.
“I need to know the truth for my kid,” said the mother, who was wearing a wire so detectives could record the conversation. “Did y’all have sex?”
The teacher, Ethel Anderson, sobbed, then responded, “No. It got to the point where I was like, ‘Wow. There’s really a line.’”
The mother asked, “If you know it wasn’t OK, why would you...”
“I don’t know,” Anderson said. “I really don’t know.”
Jurors, however, knew. On Wednesday, a jury of three men and three women deliberated for less than three hours and found Anderson, 31, guilty of molesting her 12-year-old student.
Anderson, charged with three counts of lewd and lascivious battery, four counts of lewd and lascivious conduct and two counts of lewd and lascivious molestation, faces a maximum penalty of 135 years in prison. Circuit Court Judge Chet Tharpe set her sentencing hearing for Nov. 5.
Outside the courtroom, mother and son hugged detectives and prosecutors.
“I just got justice for my son,” said the mother.
The boy, now 14, who testified for nearly four hours on Tuesday, had only two words to say about the verdict: “I’m good.”
The Tribune is withholding the boy’s name because he is considered a victim of a sex crime.
Anderson showed no emotion when the verdict was read. Later, she began to shed tears as she was surrounded by bailiffs and led out of the courtroom in handcuffs.
Anderson’s parents declined to comment.
Her attorney, William Knight, said he was “obviously disappointed” how the trial ended and declined to comment further.
The boy testified that Anderson, then his teacher at Mango Elementary, was tutoring him in math in December 2011 when she started making advances toward him. Over the next few months, the boy said, that led to her fondling him, her performing oral sex on him and the pair simulating sex acts while dressed.
The two sent hundreds of sexually explicit text messages to each other talking about what they had done, prosecutors said.
At the time, Anderson was married, and she and her husband had a 5-year-old daughter.
Anderson testified that no sexual acts occurred between her and the boy. She said the boy was emotionally troubled and struggling in school. She also said her former student was the one who initiated physical contact.
Anderson testified on Tuesday and said the text messages were all an elaborate strategy to keep her student focused on his studies.
“I recognize it was explicit and inappropriate, but it was all fantasy,” she said. “He was going through puberty. He couldn’t connect with his family, he was always thinking sexually. My purpose was to get his attention.”
Assistant State Attorney Rita Peters called Anderson’s technique “sexual therapy” and reminded jurors of that during closing arguments on Wednesday.
“It’s an unconventional method,” Peters told jurors. “Maybe she should publish it. Sexual therapy -- is that reasonable? It is absolutely not.”
Knight told jurors that Anderson was not on trial for the explicit text messages, but for the allegations of molestation. There was no physical evidence, such as DNA, and it was the word of a teacher against the word of a boy who Knight said gave inconsistent testimony regarding when the sex acts occurred.
“You heard this young man say he was popular, he texted, he Skyped,” Knight said. “Using common sense, if this was truly going on, there would have been someone, somewhere that he would’ve told” about his relationship with Anderson.
“If he kept his secrets,” Knight said, “he’d be the most remarkable 12-year-old in the world.”
Other than the testimony of the boy, his mother, Anderson, detectives and a crime scene technician, jurors had only two other pieces of evidence to consider: the 230 pages of text messages between the defendant and her student and the hour-long conversation recorded last year between the teacher and the boy’s mother.
At the end of that meeting, the mother wanted to know how far the relationship went between her son and his teacher.
“So you all pretty much did everything but sex?” the mother asked.
Anderson replied, “Not all at the same time, but yes. I’m very sorry. I’m so sorry.”