SHAWNEE, Okla. (AP) — A former Oklahoma schoolteacher who pleaded no contest to child pornography and exploitation charges changed her plea to guilty Friday and agreed to accept a 45-year prison sentence.
Former third-grade teacher Kimberly Crain, 50, pleaded guilty midway through a sentencing hearing in which she could have been sentenced to life in prison on multiple counts of sexual exploitation of a child under 12 and possession of juvenile pornography, plus separate counts of conspiracy to commit sexual exploitation and lewd molestation.
Crain tearfully apologized to members of her family, friends and the parents and other family members of more than a dozen former students. She was accused of taking sexually explicit photos of young female students in her classroom in McLoud, 30 miles east of Oklahoma City, and sharing them with retired early childhood development professor Gary Doby of Bloomsburg, Pa., who pleaded guilty to child exploitation charges in January and was sentenced to life in prison.
"Standing before you today is the most humbling experience I have ever had," Crain said inside the crowded Pottawatomie County courtroom.
Wearing an orange jail-issued jumpsuit and shackled at the wrists and ankles, Crain's words were hard to understand at times as she wept. She said she felt "intense remorse" for her actions and acknowledged she "made mistakes."
"To my mom and dad, I want to say I'm sorry," she said, occasionally wiping tears from her eyes with a tissue. "I'm sorry I had to go and disappoint you like this."
Crain said her actions destroyed the respect she had earned from students, parents and faculty and staff at McLoud Public Schools.
"I regret my actions," she said, looking toward her former students' families. "Please accept my heartfelt apologies."
District Judge John Canavan Jr. said he hoped resolution of the emotional case would help bring closure to family members of the young victims. "There's no way the judicial system can make everyone whole again," Canavan said.
Earlier, the judge accepted Crain's guilty pleas to 31 felony counts, including 18 counts of sexual exploitation that will require her to serve 85 percent of her 45-year sentence, or 37 years and three months, before she is eligible for parole.
"You will be 87 years and several months old. Do you understand that?" Canavan said.
"Yes!" Crain blurted out emotionally.
Canavan asked the victims' family members to raise their hands if they disagreed with the plea deal. No hands went up.
"Do you understand the extent of damage you have done to the victims in this case?" the judge asked Crain.
"Yes, sir, I do," she replied.
At a preliminary hearing in May, nine of Crain's former students — ages 9 to 11 — testified their teacher took photos of them in her classroom and during a pizza party at her home while they were wearing tank tops and underwear. Prosecutors said the girls also were videotaped naked while changing clothes.
District Attorney Richard Smothermon said Crain shared the photos with Doby, a former professor at Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania, as well as sexually explicit photos she took of herself.
"I'm glad she took some responsibility today. It was too long in coming," Smothermon said.
During the sentencing hearing, Crain's husband, Rick Crain, asked for leniency for his wife. He said he believed she was coerced by Doby and that her conduct was "100 percent instigated by him."
"He's a very slick talker," Rick Crain said.
Smothermon said he had planned to question Doby during Kimberly Crain's sentencing hearing and believes Crain decided to plead guilty to prevent Doby from disclosing the extent of her involvement.
"They were partners in crime," Smothermon said. "This wasn't Mr. Doby. This was her."
Smothermon described Doby as "a pedophile" and "a monster to children" who resurrected a relationship with Crain in 2010. Officials have said the two met during the 1980s when Crain was a student and Doby a professor at Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee.
The prosecutor said their criminal conduct went on for 10 months throughout 2011.
"The actions that these two individuals took are going to have ripple effects for the rest of these children's lives," Smothermon said.
Crain's defense attorney, Cregg Webb, said she will be eligible for judicial review in a year and at that time can ask Judge Canavan to lower her 45-year prison sentence.
"We're hopeful that he'll modify the sentence," Webb said.
Smothermon said he will oppose any request to lower Crain's sentence. He said 45 years is the equivalent of a life sentence under Oklahoma Department of Corrections guidelines for parole consideration.
"What she got today is what she deserves," he said. "It effectively ends her life in prison."