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Parole Handed Down to Former Essex County Teacher of the Year Who Had Sex with Student – Sentence too Lenient? [POLL]

Erica DePalo (Essex County Prosecutor's Office)
Erica DePalo (Essex County Prosecutor’s Office)

Just today a study was released asking if women teachers who prey on male students are treated more leniently than if it were the other way around.

The study found:

•Male defendants went to prison in 54 percent of cases compared with 44 percent of cases for female defendants;

•Men averaged 2.4 years in prison compared with 1.6 years in prison for women, or 50 percent more time;

•Ninety-three of the 97 cases ended in plea deals;

•Forty-seven cases ended in noncustodial sentences, which typically involved pre-trial intervention programs or probation.

There are various reasons for the disparities in these cases, experts say, including the perception that girls and women need to be protected and are more vulnerable than their male counterparts, the availability of evidence, and the willingness of the student to participate in the prosecution.

Fast forward to this afternoon where 33 year old Erica DePalo, a former Teacher of the Year, admitted to having sex with a 15 year old student.

The reason? She was heavily depressed at the time, and because she was prescribed the wrong medication for her depression, anxiety and bi-polar disorder; was given over to feelings of entitlement; which again, clouded her judgment.

According to this:

Erica DePalo, who won accolades as Essex County Teacher of the Year was sentenced today to a three-year suspended sentence, which means she will serve no jail time but will be on parole and must register under Megan’s Law. She also agreed never to seek government or public employment or have any contact with the victim.

DePalo’s psychiatric condition figured heavily into plea negotiations, her attorney Anthony Alfano said. DePalo suffered from depression, anxiety and bi-polar disorder, for which she was prescribed the wrong medication, Alfano said.

“She was functioning in the classroom. But she was feeling it inside. She was heavily, heavily depressed,” Alfano said outside of the courtroom.

He said anti-depressants that should not have been prescribed to someone with bi-polar disorder affected her sense of entitlement and judgment. “She thought she was too good, that she could do anything,” Alfano said.

Police charged DePalo in August with first-degree aggravated sexual assault, second-degree sexual assault and endangering the welfare of a child. The first two charges were dropped as part of the plea deal.

Assistant Prosecutor Tony Gutierrez said the 15-year-old boy, who was a student in DePalo’s honor’s English class, was the only victim and that the relationship lasted a few weeks.

Alfano said her goal is to “get better. To start feeling some confidence.”

Some will say that she’s suffering enough, having to register as a Megan’s Law offender, plus the forfeiture of her teaching license, and not being able to work in the public sector.

And while I can’t discount the testimony of her being depressed and being given the wrong meds for her condition; I still can’t help but wonder.

Had this been a man and the victim a female, do you believe the outcome would have been any different?

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