“I’m sorry. I’m very sorry for what I did. I know it was horrible and it will never happen again,” sobbed an emotional Kourtnie Sanchez as she was sentenced in court last week to 18 months probation, with 60 days in the county jail for unlawful sex crimes with three teenage boys while she was a student teacher at Marshall Elementary School in Eureka, and a girls basketball and volleyball coach at Eureka Junior High School. Sanchez and her husband live in Eureka with their four children, ages five months to seven years old.
Chief District Judge David Ricke addressed the defendant: “Mrs. Sanchez, you were the adult. You had a responsibility to make better decisions, despite any attraction that might otherwise be in place, to reject that attraction and not exploit a minor.” He continued, “... but apparently on multiple occasions, you resolved your judgement, your decisions, in favor of doing the wrong thing. This has to be deterred, either in your life or the lives of others.”
In June of last year, at Sanchez’s preliminary hearing, three teenage boys, ranging in ages from 15 to 17 at the time of the crimes, testified that Sanchez, then 25 years old, had sent naked pictures of herself through Snapchat, a popular photo and video texting application. It was disclosed in court that there were over 500 Snapchat records between Sanchez and one victim.
Their stories were all similar, with the communication beginning innocently with small talk, but the case was the same with all three, that it gradually escalated to Sanchez sending nude pictures and then requests by her for sex. One boy testified that she had invited him over to her house, where they had sexual relations. One teen testified that he had plans to have sex with her and the third said he stopped communications before anything else happened because he felt it was wrong.
Originally, Sanchez was charged with three felonies and three misdemeanors, which would have carried prison time if found guilty. Sanchez was able to reach a plea agreement with Greenwood County Attorney Joe Lee to amend the charges, dropping one felony charge of Electronic Solicitation and changing the other two felonies so that the charges carried a probation sentence instead of prison time. An original felony charge of Unlawful Sexual Relations was changed to Solicitation of Unlawful Sexual Relations. Sanchez pled guilty to the amended charges in December of last year.
Judge Ricke told Sanchez that he felt with the reduction in charges, that there was insufficient accountability for her and that he would impose a 60-day jail sentence as part of the probation requirements.
“The court notes that this may cause some disruption in family routine and it is not the intention of the court to compromise the interest of a small one,” said the judge. “However the court is not going to allow pregnancy, childbirth or child rearing responsibilities to interfere with the justice that must be served by the condition of probation jail time that the court is imposing.”
He continued, “If it were a hardship, Mrs. Sanchez, it’s because your behavior caused it. If your baby misses its mother, it’s because the mother made some serious mistakes which led to this period of deprivation. And I don’t impose this order to work a hardship on your family or these children, but to achieve some measure of justice and punishment for what you did.”
The mother of the 15-year-old boy spoke at the sentencing.
“As parents we send our children to school for a safe learning environment, feeling the people they hire are good people,” she began. “We trust our coaches and educators. We allow them to be around our children, trusting that they are safe and that they will be protected from any harm coming to them.”
She continued, “To hear the person the school entrusted to be around your child has other sick, twisted motivations is one of the worst things a parent can hear.”
The mother spoke of how she and her family were in disbelief when they learned about what had happened. She addressed Sanchez: “You are an adult, married woman, college-educated and a professional. You should know how to make an adult choice. You enjoyed getting the positive attention from these boys, but the one thing you failed to recognize in all of this is that you are the adult here. You’re the one person that could’ve stopped all this from happening.”
The mother expressed her outrage that Sanchez had not been made to stay in jail during the proceedings. She told the court how upset she was that Sanchez had been allowed to continue attending the high school basketball games.
“Is it looked at differently because you’re a woman? And they are just boys?” she asked. “So will you be given a lighter punishment because you’re a woman? This makes me even more frustrated.” She continued, “An adult coach educator seducing children is at issue here. There exists a clear and wide disagreement between the punishment female sex offenders face compared to male sex offenders. Clearly there are flaws in the system. There needs to be harsher sentences for women who abuse their power and sexually abuse students.”
She told Sanchez: “You tried to take my son’s innocence with no regard to the effect it may have had on him. We are healing from the trauma you have caused in our lives. It doesn’t mean the damage never existed; it means the damage no longer controls our lives.”
Because this was Sanchez’s first offense, according to the plea agreement, her crimes placed her in a presumptive probation category instead of prison time. An underlying prison sentence was given to Sanchez, in the event she violates her probation conditions.
County Attorney Lee asked that for the sake of public safety, the court to give Sanchez the maximum sentence that the law would allow for the charges, an underlying sentence of eight months prison for each felony and eight months county jail time for each misdemeanor. He asked that the prison time be served consecutively, with the county jail time to be served concurrently, but after her release from prison, for a total of 24 months incarceration.
In regards to the 60-day county jail time, Lee stated, “Unlike a fine where somebody else can pay it or financial obligations where somebody else is taking the brunt of that, nobody can do the time but the defendant,” said Lee. “It is an issue of punishment, but also in a case such as this, it drives home a point, in regards to personal consequence.”
As part of Sanchez’s sentencing, Judge Ricke ordered a sexual offender evaluation to be done in regards to treatment. Lee asked that transcripts of the case, including testimonies, to be included in the evaluation. He said he wanted to avoid the evaluator’s recommendation for treatment being based solely on an interview of Sanchez. The judge agreed to this stipulation.
Lee also asked that Sanchez be prohibited from attending any functions designed for children, including school functions, 4-H programs, prom and other school events. He acknowledged that this may affect her presence at her own children’s functions, but pointed out that some of the victims in this case may be in attendance with younger siblings and it would be detrimental to them for her to be there. Sanchez will be required to be on the Kansas Sexual Offender’s Registration List for 25 years.
Lee commented that there were restrictions related to this registration as well. “These types of cases are never easy,” said Lee. “They affect people beyond the defendant and the victims, but the defendant is the one who made these choices.”
Sanchez’s defense attorney, Ryan Gering, told Judge Ricke that his client has obviously made a series of poor decisions and was very remorseful. He asked him not to put her in jail for the 60 days. He explained that Sanchez was working two different jobs and also was taking care of her four small children, as her husband leaves early in the morning and comes home late at night with his job. He also asked for a work release program for Sanchez, so that she could continue to work at her two jobs. The judge said he would consider it, but he was not inclined to approve it.
Judge Ricke spoke to the courtroom, explaining that when the charges were reduced by County Attorney Lee in the plea agreement, he was bound by law to follow the rule of presumptive probation unless there was a departure motion made for an exception. As there were no motions filed, he was compelled to impose probation rather than a prison sentence.
Judge Ricke did, however, determine that the charges warranted the “aggravated” sentence, of nine months of prison for each felony, to be served consecutively, and nine months of county jail time, to be served concurrently, for each misdemeanor for a total underlying sentence of 18 months, rather than the 16 months requested by Lee. In regards to serving the county jail time after the prison time, in the event that Sanchez broke probation and had to actually serve incarceration time, he felt that it made no sense to be remanded to the county jail at local taxpayer’s expense after she had served her prison time and rejected that request.
Judge Ricke said that he felt Sanchez needed to be restricted from access to the types and ages of minors that she had exploited in the past and ordered her to avoid all social events that were designed for children between the ages of 12 and 17. This will allow her to be able to attend her own children’s events. She is barred from being on the Eureka High School property, or any high school event for any high school during her probation period. Sanchez will also have other conditions of probation, including no drugs or alcohol, no possession of guns, curfew and travel conditions, no contact with victims or their families and pay DNA and court fees.
Sanchez was handcuffed in the courtroom and led out by Greenwood County Sheriff’s deputies. She was later transferred to Butler County to serve her 60 day county jail sentence.
(Editor’s note: After Sanchez was transferred to the Butler County Jail, a work release program was approved by Judge Ricke. She will be responsible for her own transportation from Butler County to her job. After several phone calls to different agencies, no additional information was released to The Madison News.)