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Sex crime charges net jail time for ex-teacher

South Boston News
Sheets
SoVaNow.com / February 26, 2018

A former teacher at Centra Rivermont School in Chase City will spend years in prison after pleading guilty this week to sex crimes involving a teenage student from South Boston.

Heidi Bradshaw Sheets, 40, of Baskerville pleaded guilty on Wednesday to one count of taking indecent liberties with a minor, one count of online solicitation of a minor and one count of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. She faces up to 16 years in prison on these charges, which were brought in Halifax County.

Also Wednesday, Sheets was sentenced to five years in prison on separate charges in Mecklenburg County stemming from her involvement with the same victim.

Four more charges in the Halifax case — including two counts of consensual sex with a minor over the age of 15, one count of contributing to the delinquency of a minor and one count of taking indecent liberties with a child — were dropped by the prosecution.

Rivermont School is a regional center for students who require intervention and counseling services outside of the regular classroom.

Sheets’ plea was heard by Mecklenburg County Circuit Court Judge Leslie Osborn, even though the charges first arose in Halifax County.

Since Sheets was already in court in Boydton for sentencing in the companion case, the Halifax County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office agreed to have Osborn preside over both cases.

Her sentencing in the Halifax County case is set for March 20 at 11 a.m. in Halifax County Circuit Court.

Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Anna Bowen told Osborn that she was willing to dismiss four charges since the victim of the crimes is currently awaiting trial on unrelated charges of grand larceny, breaking and entering, and receiving stolen goods, among other alleged offenses. Bowen acknowledged the charges could raise credibility issues for the prosecution if the youth victim was called to testify in the case.

At the time of the crimes, the male victim was between the ages of 16 and 17, and was a student of Sheets’ at the alternative school in Mecklenburg County. Evidence offered in both cases show that while the sex acts took place in Halifax County, the computer messages that preceded and followed their encounters often occurred in Mecklenburg County.

Had the case gone to trial, Bowen said the evidence would have shown that over the course of more than two weeks in February 2017, Sheets used social media to arrange meetings with the student for the purpose of sex and, in the aftermath of their relations to discuss the events. On two occasions Sheets drove from her home in Baskerville to the victim’s home for the purpose of engaging in sex acts. On both occasions she provided the victim, a minor, with alcohol.

Sheet is also alleged to have given the victim money to purchase marijuana that the two smoked together, though Sheets, through her attorney, denied this allegation.

Bowen said the relationship came to light when the victim failed to log off a computer he was using at the school to send messages to Sheets. The school’s lab manager found the missives and brought them to the attention of the school administrators, who then notified the police.

During her initial interview with Investigators in both Halifax and Mecklenburg, Sheets denied any relationship, but later recanted, Bowen said. At her plea hearing Wednesday in Boydton, Sheets took full responsibility for her actions.

Sheets was also sentenced Wednesday in the companion case in Mecklenburg County arising from the same sexual encounters.

Initially, Sheets was charged in Mecklenburg County with nine counts of taking indecent liberties with a minor and nine counts of soliciting sex with a minor via computer. She pleaded guilty, under an agreement, to four counts of taking indecent liberties and four counts of soliciting sex. The remaining ten charges were dismissed by the prosecution.

For her actions in Mecklenburg County, Sheets received an active sentence of five years, followed by four years of supervised probation. She must also submit to a DNA test, have no further contact with the victim or his family, and register as a sex offender.

The full sentence doled out by Osborn was 40 years: five years on each of four counts of taking indecent liberties with a minor, and five years each on four counts of soliciting sex with a minor by use of a computer. Osborn said he took into consideration several factors before pronouncing his sentence, including the length of time of the relationship — about 2-1/2 weeks — as well as Sheets’ position as his teacher, the fact that the victim was a willing participant, and that the statistics used to determine the recidivism rate of sex offenders are based more on men than women, and therefore not an adequate predictor of whether Sheets would repeat the misdeed.

Dr. Evan Nelson, a clinical psychologist, testified at Sheets’ sentencing that her behavior was due in part to low self-esteem, depression, and the drug Requip, which she takes for her restless leg syndrome.

Under questioning by defense attorney Brendan Dunning of Halifax, Nelson explained that Sheets was morbidly obese and bullied in her youth. Though now of normal body weight, she carries with her low self-esteem from that time, he testified. She had recently undergone a relationship breakup, which left her unhappy and possibly depressed, he said. Sheets also had a “high emotional need to be wanted,” according to Nelson.

Coupled with the Requip drug — with its known side-effect of reducing inhibitions and increasing compulsive behavior — a “psychological pathway” existed that resulted in Sheets’ “reckless and self-injurious behavior,” Nelson said.

Aside from those factors, Nelson described Sheets as “very healthy [with] no unusual affinity for pre-pubescent boys or girls, no signs of impaired judgement, mental illness, substance abuse or abandonment issues.” He said she had a supportive family and showed none of the factors that psychologists look for among sexual deviants, such as anti-sociality or mental illness.

Nelson also said Sheets “scored below the median level” on an assessment he gave her to determine if she would repeat her offense.

His recommendation was that Sheets receive therapy to deal with her “broader pattern of inadequacy.” He also suggested her access to alcohol be prohibited, but said its use was not a ”major factor” in the current case.

Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Meredith Atkins — the prosecutor in the Mecklenburg case — countered Nelson’s testimony by reading several graphic excerpts from social media messages sent by Sheets and her victim. Atkins said, “She used Facebook to satisfy primal urges. This was not just inappropriate. [Sheets] was supposed to guide the victim, not in the way she did. The victim’s mother did not expect this when she sent her child to school to learn.”

Atkins asked Osborne to sentence Sheets to an active sentence of 12 years, pointing to at least 10 social media messages where Sheets acknowledged her understanding that the relationship was not only wrong, but illegal.

In response, Dunning asked to have Sheets placed on house arrest instead, directing attention to the “pillars of the community” who spoke up on behalf of his client through letters to the judge, the testimony of the psychologist suggesting Sheets’ prospects for repeating the offense were low, and the Facebook exchange between Sheets and the victim that suggested this was not a predatory relationship and the victim was a willing participant.

He also suggested Sheets receive counseling services to address her self-esteem issues.

Sheets will receive credit for the nearly one year already served in prison.

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