Shelley Dufresne, one of two former Destrehan High School teachers accused of having sex with a 16-year-old student, has agreed to a plea deal in St. Charles Parish that will allow her to avoid any prison time or having to register as a sex offender, at least for now.
She still faces charges in Jefferson Parish.
The St. Charles District Attorney’s Office and Dufresne’s attorney, Deanne Williams, announced the deal during a status conference Thursday at 29th Judicial District Court in Hahnville.
Dufresne, 32, was facing one felony count of carnal knowledge of a juvenile, which carried a potential sentence of up to a decade in prison and a $5,000 fine. The charge stemmed from an alleged sexual encounter with the teenage boy at a home in Montz.
The legal age of consent in Louisiana is 17. State law also prohibits sexual contact between a teacher and a student when the student is under 21 and the age difference between the pair is more than four years.
As part of the deal unveiled Thursday, Dufresne pleaded guilty to one felony count of obscenity and received a deferred sentence of three years in prison, plus three years of active probation and a $1,000 fine.
She will avoid serving any time on condition that she avoid contact with the victim and his family and complete 90 days of treatment at a mental health facility by the end of August. She will have to forfeit her teacher’s license.
The original charge of carnal knowledge will be held open during her probation period.
Dufresne spoke in a low, measured tone during the brief proceeding, occasionally looking behind her. Her mother, Noelie Hotard McNeill, sat in the front row of the courtroom. Her father, Judge Emile St. Pierre, was not present.
On the other side of the courtroom, the teenager’s parents watched intently from the front row, along with their lawyer. They declined to comment after the proceeding.
Retired Judge Anne Lennan Simon, formerly of the 16th Judicial District Court, was tapped to handle the case on an ad hoc basis after St. Pierre and his two colleagues on the 29th JDC bench recused themselves.
As Simon read each count, Dufresne acknowledged that she had had “consensual sexual intercourse” with the teenager.
St. Charles deputies arrested Dufresne on Sept. 30.
A bill of information filed last year by St. Charles District Attorney Joel Chaisson II said the sexual encounters between Dufresne and the teenager occurred from Aug. 22 through Sept. 27.
She pleaded not guilty in November and spent the past few months free on bail, under the condition that she remain at home except for a few specific exceptions.
In a statement Thursday, Chaisson praised his team’s “efforts to reach a fair resolution of the case and to secure a felony guilty plea, thereby sparing the juvenile victim in this matter from having to testify at a public trial.”
Chaisson said the victim’s family supported the plea deal.
Dufresne still faces separate charges related to an alleged three-way sexual encounter with the same student and a fellow teacher, 24-year-old Rachel Respess. That incident is alleged to have happened in Jefferson Parish after a Destrehan High football game in September.
Kenner police booked the two teachers on identical charges of carnal knowledge of a juvenile, indecent behavior with a juvenile and contributing to the delinquency of a juvenile, but they have yet to be formally arraigned on the allegations in Jefferson Parish.
They are both due in 24th Judicial District Court in Gretna for separate status conferences in coming weeks.
Respess’ attorney, Jeffrey Smith, said Thursday that he expects Jefferson District Attorney Paul Connick’s office will decide whether to formally charge his client before her April 30 status hearing.
Connick’s office did not return a call for comment.
Though Smith said he was surprised prosecutors didn’t craft a deal to resolve all of Dufresne’s charges in a global settlement, he described Thursday’s arrangement as “very just and very fair for all the parties.”
The charges against both women were originally set in motion last fall after the victim — who is now 17 — allegedly boasted to other students about his sexual escapades with the teachers. School officials eventually caught wind of the talk and reported it to the Sheriff’s Office.
The arrests came as a shock in Destrehan, eliciting a mixture of disbelief, outrage and crude jokes.
Law enforcement officials, therapists, sociologists and child welfare advocates have pushed back against the idea that the charges should be taken lightly, pointing out that a 16-year-old, regardless of gender, is in no position to consent to sex with adults.
As for Respess, Smith made several points that likely will be part of her defense if she’s charged: He said she was “very intoxicated” the night of the alleged three-way sexual encounter last September, that she “never entered into consensual sex with this young man” and she was simply “in her house intoxicated when these people came and knocked on her door.”
“Letting them in her house was by far her biggest mistake,” he added.
Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.