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Former Teacher Of The Year Accepts Plea In Teen Sex Case

Erica DePalo of Montclair accepts plea deal to endangering welfare of a child.

A West Orange High School female English teacher accused of having a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old student pleaded guilty Tuesday to endangering the welfare of a child, according to the Essex County Prosecutor’s office.

Erica DePalo, 33, of Montclair is expected to receive life parole supervision under the terms of the plea agreement when she is sentenced on April 29, the official said in a release on Tuesday.

She will also be required to undergo a psychological evaluation at the Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center in Avenel, forfeit her teacher’s license and never be allowed to seek government appointment, the prosecutor’s office said.

“This is a just resolution of the case because it frees the victim from having to testify in open court,” Assistant Prosecutor Tony Gutierrez said. “The victim’s family is also relieved that their son can now move forward.”

The interim superintendent of the West Orange School District, James O'Neill, said Tuesday he was “personally disappointed” and felt the parents and students in the district “have been poorly served by the justice system in Essex County." O'Neill said DePalo should have faced jail time.

From June to August 2012, the 15-year-old student visited DePalo at her apartment in Montclair more than once where the two had sexual relations, Gutierrez said.

DePalo was arrested on Aug. 31, 2012, police said. At the time, she was initially charged with aggravated sexual assault and a second count of sexual assault since the student was 15 and could not consent.

Those charges were dropped as part of the agreement. She could have faced up to 10 years in prison if convicted on all initial charges.

DePalo was chosen as the 2011-12 County Teacher of the Year, which is part of the state Department of Education’s New Jersey Teacher of the Year program. That year, she also was selected as one of the five finalists for the Teacher of the Year in the same program.

Gary Englert February 26, 2013 at 04:53 PM
Ricky: I very much "got it" way before commenting anywhere on this thread and, yes, there most certainly is a difference between the victim and the perpetrator of a crime. What you aren't getting is the reality of public opinion...and that a significant portion of the population (read people who make up juries) have a hard time wrapping their heads around the idea that a 15 year old is a "victim" in a consensual sexual relationship with an adult, even though the law says that she/he is. That opinion is simply bolstered by the fact that people of the same age are routinely charged/tried as adults and held fully responsible for the dicsions they make and actions they take. That makes a criminal prosecution like DePalo's no sure thing to win at trial...and it's no more complicated than that.
Ricky February 27, 2013 at 07:04 AM
>the population (read people who make up juries) have a hard time wrapping their heads around the idea that a 15 year old is a "victim"< They shouldn't. Would they have a hard time seeing him as a victim at 14? at 13? at 10 or do you want to go further and seeing him a victim if he were 7 years old? A minor is all of those ages. When laws were drawn up, there had to be a line drawn based on the abilities to know the consequences of their actions. 18 was the line drawn. It doesn't matter whether the kid was 7 years old or 15, the law sees both of them as not being able to consent into a physical relationship with an adult, not able to enter into a contract, etc.
Gary Englert February 27, 2013 at 03:59 PM
Ricky: The bottom line is that you may have whatver personal feelings or standards that you do but, you can't deal in absolutes when talking about people and the simple fact remains that a great many people simply don't share your point of view. The closer someone gets to the age of consent (16 in NJ) the less likely some people will view them as complete innocents, or babes in the woods, when it comes to matters of sex and the choices they make; though, yes, there is a big difference between age 7 and 15. Accepting these practical realities do weigh into how criminal cases are resolved .
Brett Murray March 03, 2013 at 10:51 AM
Lori First I'm not in disagreement with you or any of the others posting views about double standards in punishment. My view is I could really care less if the crime is committed by a male or female. Equal punishment should apply. I have been a teacher for 20 yrs and have made it a point to uphold the trust placed in me by parents and those in the community I serve. I am a public employee paid by taxpayers and those taxpayers have every right to demand that I guard the trust I an afforded. So in that this person has by virtue of position assumed the role of an adult in a relationship that is supposed to be protected by the teacher not exploited. I'm sorry but it makes no difference to me how this 15 yr old acted or what he or his parents wanted. Contrary to perception the law assigns him no degree of responsibility in this. I agree with you that no doubt this 15 yr old knew what he was doing but the person responsible who had all the control as to how far this situation went forfeited that control and any sympathy I have for her situation. She should be behind bar for no other reason that the damage she inflicted to the profession of teaching not to mention all those who do it with integrity. I also understand that the parents want to move on from this and I hope their decision to offer a plea was arrived at after careful thought on how damaging this abuse can be.
Brett Murray March 03, 2013 at 11:11 AM
Mr Englert Help me understand your view point...You draw comparisons between a 15 yr old criminal and a 15 yr old who has been by definition of the law "abused by a person in a position of authority". Are you saying that if a 15 yr old commits murder then they risk being tried as an adult so this 15 yr old would risk being considered an adult in this situation? Sorry but it don't work that way...see this law is in place to protect him (whether is needs it or not) not assign him some degree of responsibility for this situation. Although we many never know it there was a clear instant when the "real" adult in this blurred the boundaries of acceptable behavior and broke the law. Fact is perception of responsibility has no place here.
Lori March 03, 2013 at 02:11 PM
@Brett Murray I completely agree with you. Every criminal deserves the same punishment that fits the crime. It's a shame that because of the law, loopholes, evidence/witnesses or 'lack-of', etc, etc.... the punishment isn't always fair, as is life in general! I also agree that as an adult, this teacher was in complete control over the situation. Her first mistake was allowing a student to come to her residence! I'm thankful though, that this student (and/or his parents) were wise enough to report it. WAY TOO MUCH of this stuff goes unreported!! It's partly what adds to these perverted and sick individuals problems. The more they get away with, the more they get involved in whatever the unlawful activity is. As a society people shouldn't be so quick to not put time into doing what is right for the sake of all involved now and in the future. Yes, it may take time away from your work, family or recreational time....but isn't it worth it?? Of course this teacher deserves time behind bars for her crime, but at least we can be thankful that she will no longer be allowed access to our kids through the public education system and her actions will be monitored for the rest of her life. The shame she has to live with must eat at her daily. Hopefully she regrets what she has done and has been apologetic to the victim and his family (I really don't know details about this case though). Thanks for your comment!
Gary Englert March 03, 2013 at 02:15 PM
Brett Murray: My position here, repeated more than once, I really think is quite clear. While I certainly agree that a crime (under NJ statute) was committed here, and that the victim is blameless under the law, I also recognize the hurdles a prosecutor faces trying to win conviction at trial. It this particular instance, one of those hurdles is convincing 12 people of precisely that...that a 15 year old is incapable of making cogent decisions about his/her sex life. Again, in a legal system where 15 year olds are held responsible for capital crimes and are tried, convicted and sentenced as adults, a great many people have difficulty reconciling the fact that, conversely, someone of the same age is an innocent when it comes to sex. The law doesn't assess any responsibility to the victim here but, some portion of the generally public most certainly will (read the posts here if you need convincing) and it's from the general public that juries are chosen. I fully understand all the legal nuance, which need not be explained to me. I'm simply acknowledging practical realities and what was likely considered when reaching a plea agreement rather than going to trial.
Ricky March 03, 2013 at 05:26 PM
>there is a big difference between age 7 and 15< not in the eyes of the law there isn't, minors whether 7 or 15 cannot consent to agreements, contracts, etc.
Gary Englert March 03, 2013 at 06:29 PM
Ricky: Regardless of whatever is memorialized in law, there is a very big difference between a prepubescent 7 year old and a 15 year old (of either gender, frankly), and how they appear and comport themselves on a witness stand, in front of 12 people with eyes that see and ears that hear. The number of 6 foot,180 pound, 15 year-old boys out there is legion and the idea that such a lad might be object of abuse by a 5 foot, 110 pound woman he willingly engaged in a sexual relationship with is simply difficult for many people to reconcile. Prosecutors must not simply address the letter of the law but also the probability of conviction at trial...and that's precisely what went on here.
Brett Murray March 03, 2013 at 07:56 PM
Gary Actually I believe that if this went to trial it would have been a slam dunk. In a jury sequester if I were the hold out I would have a hard time standing my ground on believing this minor has some sort of guilt to bear in this. Realistically what could I find this 15 yr old guilty of or what mitigation could I find for her innocence? He is not even allowed to consent to sex in NJ so how could he be guilty of anything? That fact in and of itself makes this all a mood point. Frankly I don't think it would have taken them an hour to convict her no other verdict would be possible considering the law.
Gary Englert March 03, 2013 at 08:32 PM
Brett Murray: The bottom line remains that the decision to proceed with, and accept, a plea agreement was made by the prosecutors...who not only know the quality of the evidence and potential testimony (or lack thereof)...but, are far more familiar with the vagaries of juror opinions, and resulting verdicts, than you are. Dispute my analysis all you wish but, I assure you that the issues I've discussed were an integral part of the decision not to go to trial where anything might have happened and often does.
Brett Murray March 03, 2013 at 09:41 PM
Gary I the family accepted the plea for their own reasons which likely had nothing to do with the prosecutors or vagaries of any jurors opinion or for that matter mine or your opinion. Sorry but the prosecutors don't get to make those kind of decisions. They can present their case for acceptance but if the family of this 15 yr old is not satisfied the plea deal it doesn't happen and we go to trial.
Gary Englert March 03, 2013 at 10:01 PM
Brett Murray: I don't know what universe you inhabit and/or what experience/familiarity you have with criminal law and prosecutions but, I can assure you that it is very much within the prosection's discretion as to how someone will be charged, whether or not an indictment will be sought and/or whether the matter will go to trial or be plead out. While the victim's wishes are certainly a consideration throughout the process, they neither run the show nor dictate terms. For example, a victim (of whatever crime) can't curtail prosecution of an actor because he/she is such a forgiving Christian that they feel compelled to turn the other cheek! Again, the public knows only what has been revealed in the media about this matter and neither the quality of the evidence nor testimony has been presented for review. For you or anyone else to conclude it was sufficient to win at trial is extremely presumptuous and the fact the matter was plead out tends to suggest it wasn't.
Brett Murray March 04, 2013 at 06:46 AM
Gary Maybe my point was not made clear and very possibly splitting hairs here..if so my apologies. I am not saying that this family decides whether to strike a deal or not but the terms if unacceptable has to give them the right to bring that to the court. My question is what would the decision of the court be if this family chose not to accept what the prosecutor offers? Are the charges dismissed and the parties walk away? Of course not and sure if the prosecutors thought the case was going to be tough to win I'm sure they would have brought this to the victims lawyer and maybe they did. But I still say the state of NJ brought the charges and the decision to move forward and only I might add after a lengthy grand jury hearing. I'm sure that they didn't sit in there and come up with a neat plea deal designed to make everyone happy. I'm sorry but I refuse to believe that this family would have been overruled if they thought going to trial was necessary because the terms of the plea were not acceptable. Every plaid suit within a 100 miles would scream to defend them in the pending lawsuit on that.
Ricky March 04, 2013 at 08:32 AM
> there is a very big difference between a prepubescent 7 year old and a 15 year old (of either gender, frankly), and how they appear and comport themselves on a witness stand< oh well you just didn't get my point, not about the maturity level of any given minor but how the laws on the books see it as a crime. Would a jury convict the adult due to the maturity level they see in this 15 year old? Lord forbid a jury would not convict. But that's not a discussion I was taking part in.
Gary Englert March 04, 2013 at 04:32 PM
Brett Murray: While the wishes of the victim/family are certainly considered (and they may even be briefed on a plea in progress) the prosecutor still makes the decisions based on the rules of law, practical realities and sentencing guidelines. Keep in mind that the "wishes of the victim" might well include boiling in oil or lynching, neither of which are likely outcomes. A victim doesn't have standing to take legal action against the criminal justice system...nor does any liability accrue to that system...based on how it chooses to dispose of a criminal cases. Long story short is that a victim will have an opportunity to submit a written impact statement and/or speak before the judge at sentencing, which will be taken into consideration. That statement, however, will have to be fairly compelling to induce the judge to do anything other than ratify the deal before him.
Gary Englert March 04, 2013 at 04:56 PM
Brett Murray: By the way, the DePalo matter was never brought before a grand jury and she was never indicted; a plea agreement was reached first.
Gary Englert March 04, 2013 at 08:58 PM
Ricky: While we are in agreement that the "laws on the books" certainly indicate that Ms. DePalo's actions are criminal, and that the victim (both under the age of consent and under her supervision as his teacher) is blameless, the written word is insufficient itself to have people universally abide by it. If that were the case, we'd have no need of police, judges, juries or any criminal justice system at all, would we? Accordingly, please understand nobody can insure that 12 people in a jury will reach the same conclusion about a particular case, simply based on what is memorialized in law. Will the physical appearance and demeanor of the victim on the stand effect the jury's deliverations? Of course it will! Fifteen year olds (for example) come in all shapes and sizes and the smaller and more immature they appear, the more sympathy will be felt. A 6 foot, 180 pound football player? No so much.
Brett Murray March 05, 2013 at 09:47 AM
Gary She did face a grand jury (please review) but you are correct an agreement was reached before she was indicted. http://westorange.patch.com/articles/teacher-arrested-for-sex-with-student-will-face-grand-jury-says-prosecutor. Yes that probably allowed time for some agreeable plea to be worked up before any trial date loomed. But there could be no doubt she was going to have to go to trial unless something was worked out before that which had to satisfy this families wishes completely. There was a quality of evidence to support a trial since she had an improper relationship with someone who was not even by law allowed to consent to it. Also if you really want to twist this... this was a relationship she wasn't allowed to consent to either which covers that little shred of guilt hanging this seducing 15 yr old. I keep hearing you say "practical realities" and you know if I thinking about it the same way you are I could apply that statement to my argument also. I think that she was facing some serious time based on sentencing guidelines and when prosecutors presented that "reality" to this family they chose to be merciful. How do we know that there wasn't prison time that the family nixed when they were presented with the terms. I'm sure this deal went through its own evolution which considered more than just what the prosecutors wanted or were willing to push.
Brett Murray March 05, 2013 at 10:11 AM
Gary Please read this and comment. Wouldn't you agree the most harsh condition of sentencing in this case? Especially if we believe our evidence was shaky from the start. Either there was something very serious here that we might never know about or she was automaticlly subjected to this based on her offense. http://www.state.nj.us/parole/somu.html
Brett Murray March 05, 2013 at 10:22 AM
Gary Also to be fair my comment "every plaid suit within a 100 miles would scream to defend them in the pending lawsuit on that" was grandstanding. You are correct that they would had no recourse to sue.
Gary Englert March 05, 2013 at 02:49 PM
Brett Murray: Your post (above) indicated your belief the case moved forward "after a lengthy grand jury hearing" and there was none. Based on what little information has been released publicly, I sense a grand jury presentation would have been problematical as the "evidence" appears to consist of the victim's testimony corroborated by text messages, which are, of course, open to interpretation. Accordingly, the reluctant victim's testimony appears to have been essential for an indictment to have been obtained. My references to "practical realities" relates to the hands that were dealt both the prosecution and defense; neither of which were strong enough to bet the ranch on. I think the plea agreement is a reflection of that. There's also an old legal adage that state, "If neither side is happy with the outcome, it's likely justice was done." I think that applies here. While Ms. DePalo is subject to "lifetime supervisionn" I do not know that her wearing a GPS equipped ankle bracelet will be part of her parole. Common sense tells me that is likely reserved for the more violent of sexual predators and, however unseemly DePalo's behavior, force and violence were not part of the equation.
Brett Murray March 06, 2013 at 08:09 AM
Gary I cannot argue your point about the grand jury but could only say that I really believe that this family did not want to go to court and that is where this was headed. Compelling him to testify was likely going to cause more harm than good. I can only speak for myself but if I were a juror in this case I don't think that I would have any problem finding this person guilty of this crime. All things being equal if it could have been proven to me that this happened the choice would have been an easy one. As for her lifetime parole supervision I would hope you are correct because it seems that in that condition of parole is not considering anything other than the offense. Not because I'm a teacher but at any rate I think we can both agree that this activity has place in a school and if it happens it needs to be dealt with. Good teachers have an extremely job these days and this stuff only makes it more so. I appreciate the discussion.
Gary Englert March 06, 2013 at 04:40 PM
Brett Murray: Some comedic wag once said, "If it weren't for differences of opinion, everyone would be sleeping with my wife!" :-) I think it's abundantly clear that the victim's parents were more than happy that neither he, nor they, had to testify...whether it be before a grand jury or in superior court...but, I think the victim's reluctance to do so was key the matter being plead out as his testimony was essential to a positive prosecutorial outcome in either venue. Again, Brett, whether you or I having the intellectual capacity to understand that a crime was committed and be able to vote for conviction isn't the issue; it's the mindset of the other 10 bodies in the jury box...and people's attitudes about all things sexual vary from promiscuous to Puritan. Teachers have my greatest respect and admiration as there are few, if any, of us who would be who and what we are without them. Thankfully, incidents such as this are the exception and not the rule...and people need to remember that there are the good, bad and indifferent in every profession and no pillory any one of them because of a single bad egg.
Craig McCarthy April 29, 2013 at 09:03 PM
Former West Orange High School teacher, Erica DePalo, 33, of Montclair, was sentenced to a three-year suspended sentence of parole with no jail time Monday afternoon, the Essex County Prosecutor's Office said. http://westorange.patch.com/articles/former-high-school-teacher-admits-to-sex-with-student-gets-parole
j r December 28, 2013 at 11:31 AM
AYO bottom every 15 yr old boy fantasizes about bangin a hot teacher !!!!! Dreams can come true it can happen to you ....if you're young at heart !!!
MuffPusher December 29, 2013 at 12:36 AM
I heard that ^^^^
Hookerman December 29, 2013 at 09:28 AM
Most 15 year old girls have also probably fantasized about being with a good looking male teacher, but that doesn't condone a 33 year old teacher (male or female) taking advantage of adolescent lust.
Proud Pappa December 30, 2013 at 06:37 PM
My teachers were old and raggy...shes cutie!!
Brian Kirkland January 07, 2014 at 09:28 AM
"A West Orange High School female English teacher"? I guess the figured you couldn't figure it was a female teacher by simply reading her first name in the next paragraph.

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