Ex-teacher guilty in sex case

A former Maiden High School band director pleaded guilty Monday to sex charges involving one of his former students.

Christopher Caldwell, who was a teacher and band director at Maiden from 2008-10, was sentenced to 24 months of community-based, supervised probation after pleading guilty to taking indecent liberties with a student nearly two years ago. Superior Court Judge James W. Morgan deemed Caldwell’s crime a “sexually violent offense” and ruled that he must register as a sex offender.

Caldwell must also pay a $1,000 fine, according to Morgan’s ruling.

The charges relate to an incident that occurred inside the Maiden High School band room in March 2010, when Caldwell, then 25, lured a 17-year-old female student inside a soundproof room to engage in sexual activities, according to state evidence presented Monday.

State attorneys say the incident was the pinnacle of a long relationship between the teacher and student that progressed from educational to intimate.

Assistant District Attorney Michael Van Buren said Caldwell initially served as a “comforting” figure to the girl, who suffered from mental and emotional issues. In addition to being completely aware of the girl’s mental illness, Caldwell was also familiar with the girl’s parents, Van Buren said.

However, over time, the student-teacher relationship turned into something more. The two started exchanging text messages, which included “sexting” one another, or the process of exchanging sexual text messages and pictures.

Their relationship and continued “sexting” escalated until a snowy day March 3, 2010, when Caldwell asked the girl to come to an empty band room following the cancellation of after-school band activities.

Van Buren said Caldwell took the girl to a soundproof chamber inside the room, and they engaged in oral sex.

Shortly after the incident, the student discussed what had happened with a friend, who informed school administrators.

Catawba County Schools (CCS) immediately launched an investigation into the issue and suspended Caldwell with pay March 4. On March 9, the school district removed his pay.

Caldwell was indicted March 22 for indecent liberties with a student and sexual offense with a student.

On Monday, Caldwell was sentenced to two years of supervised probation and will have to register as a sex offender.

‘Cast as an outsider’
The victim of the sex crime says her life has changed forever since the day of the incident in March 2010.

After charges against Caldwell surfaced and word spread around Maiden High, the victim said she was forced to transfer to another school within a week. Though she now attends Catawba Valley Community College, she said she is “cast as an outsider” to this day.

“Even though it’s happened over a year ago, I still hear (my peers) whisper ‘liar,’ ‘whore’ and ‘slut,’” the victim wrote in a letter, which was read aloud in court by Van Buren.

Van Buren said the Maiden community held the girl responsible for band trips and events that were canceled after the incident, and she received several personal death threats.

In her letter, the victim wrote that her younger sibling was also forced to change schools for safety reasons, and her family had to change churches.

“I do believe that my mom’s stroke in 2010 was a result of this,” she wrote.

Though Caldwell did not directly address the court Monday, his attorney, Jason White, spoke on his behalf about the incident. White said no one felt worse about the victim’s “problems” than Caldwell.

“He, himself, is a good person who has thrown his whole life away for a few minutes,” White said.

Holding up an envelope full of letters, White said Caldwell has received packets of support from people in the community.

“Much suffering has occurred on both sides of this fence,” he said.

Before Caldwell pleaded guilty Monday, White argued that the charges against his client imposed on his client's constitutional rights.

According to state law, the sexual relationship between Caldwell and the student victim is considered consensual and occurred between a consenting 17-year-old girl and 25-year-old teacher — a situation that is legal.

However, Caldwell broke the law according to specific wording in General Statute 14-202.4, which states that a teacher cannot engage in indecent liberties with a student at the “same school” where he teaches.

When applied to his client’s case, White said, that wording is unconstitutional, asking the judge to dismiss the charges.

“If a teacher at Maiden High School has a meeting with a student at Hickory High School, and they engage in sexual conduct, that is not illegal. Were these acts not in school, these acts would not be criminal,” White said. “As (the statutes) are applied in this particular case, those charges are unconstitutional because they infringe upon their protected rights.”

Van Buren disagreed, arguing that the relationship could lead to other potential issues, serve as a distraction in school or lead the teacher to hold the relationship as blackmail against the student.

Ultimately, Morgan denied White’s motion, citing that the state must protect the interest of the student first and foremost.

“That’s an interesting argument, though,” Morgan said.