WHEELING - Former Wheeling Middle School teacher Jennifer Bennett today admitted to exchanging sexually explicit cell phone pictures with a former student.
Bennett, 36, of Wheeling pleaded guilty in Ohio County Circuit Court to a single count of possession of child pornography. She faces up to two years in prison during a June 28 sentencing hearing in front of Judge James Mazzone.
According to the terms of a plea agreement, however, the prosecution recommends the prison time be suspended for a term of probation to be determined by Mazzone. Bennett will be required to register as a sex offender for life, and may be placed on supervised release for up to 50 years after completing her sentence.
Photo by Tyler Reynard
Former Wheeling Middle School teacher Jennifer Bennett sits next to her attorney, Chief Public Defender Shayne Welling, during a hearing in Ohio County Circuit Court today.
She will undergo a psychological evaluation with Dr. Robert Rush and a pre-sentence investigation with Ohio County Chief Probation Officer William Ball. Mazzone will consider both of those reports in determining Bennett's sentence.
Bennett remains free on bond while awaiting sentencing.
West Virginia State Police began investigating Bennett in June 2011 after the mother of one of her former students reported she believed Bennett and the then 16-year-old boy shared an inappropriate relationship.
No criminal evidence was discovered during the initial months of the investigation, but in February 2012, the boy told State Police he and Bennett had been exchanging cell phone pictures of their genitals. Bennett also admitted as much during an interview with investigators. She resigned her teaching position that same month.
The photos, however, were deleted and never recovered by State Police.
Ohio County Assistant Prosecutor Gail Kahle said the boy's family, none of whom attended the hearing today, wanted to be shielded from the case "for fear of embarrassment."