News From Terre Haute, Indiana

January 10, 2014

Teacher back in court for sentencing in student sex case

Lisa Trigg
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — A former middle school teacher who has pleaded guilty to sexual misconduct with a minor sat tearfully in court Friday during the first portion of a sentencing hearing in her case.

Erin Baynard Stewart, 34, appeared Friday in Vigo Superior Court 6 where Judge Michael Lewis heard testimony from psychiatrist Dr. Michael Newton about his understanding of why the former teacher behaved the way she did with her former student.

Stewart was arrested in April 2010 as the result of an investigation by Terre Haute Police that began after the victim’s mother made a complaint to police. According to court records, the first alleged sexual encounter between the then-14-year-old student and the teacher occurred in her classroom in December 2009, while additional encounters took place at Stewart’s home.

Stewart signed a plea agreement in March 2013, admitting to one class-B felony count of sexual misconduct with minor. Another criminal count was dismissed. That agreement includes a sentencing cap of eight years, with the sentence determined by Judge Lewis after hearing evidence and arguments from the prosecution and defense teams.

On Friday, defense attorney Steven Blakely presented Dr. Newton to share his evaluation of Stewart as a result of in-person and multiple telephone interviews. Newton said that Stewart has a history of being sexually assaulted by family members, and as a child she witnessed physical abuse by her father. She has a pattern of being unable to assert herself with men, Newton said, and she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder as well as a major depression disorder, along with social phobia.

Newton said that in his experience, Stewart is different from sex offenders in that she will not seek out sexual episodes. He said she felt powerless to resist the advances she claims were made by the student with whom she admitted to having sex.

Deputy Prosecutor Raeanna Moore presented transcripts of text messages between Stewart and her now ex-husband in which she denied the encounters with the student, saying that the then-teacher sounded like she could stand up for herself.

Newton said that he did not believe that Stewart could stand up to face-to-face confrontation of the issue with her then-husband.

Friday’s hearing testimony was taken under advisement by Judge Lewis, who set a Feb. 14 continuation of the hearing for additional witnesses and evidence to be presented in court.

Lewis noted that evaluations have been completed for community corrections placement so that he will have information on all sentencing options that are available.

Stewart was a social studies teacher at the former Chauncey Rose Middle School. Since the criminal charges were filed, her Indiana teaching license has been revoked.

Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or lisa.trigg@tribstar.com. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.