Affair with student sends teacher to prison
“That punishes the defendant for his conduct and helps to show others that this type of behavior will not be tolerated,” Miller said.
Tichenor opted to impose a 32-month sentence Tuesday afternoon in Yamhill County Circuit Court.
Yoder, 31, pleaded guilty last month to three counts of second-degree sexual abuse, a Class C felony. He also agreed to a sentencing enhancement factor stating his conduct violated the public’s trust and his professional responsibility as an educator.
Five counts each of third-degree rape and third-degree sodomy, also Class C felonies, were dismissed under terms of the plea agreement negotiated between the defense and the prosecution. So was an additional count of second-degree sexual abuse.
Yoder’s privately retained attorney, Mark Lawrence of McMinnville, argued for local jail time and probation, based on factors that included the victim’s willing participation, the defendant’s investigatory cooperation and the perceived degree of harm.
“With jail time and probation, I think he would be reformed,” Lawrence said. “He meets the probation criteria. Continued treatment would be better than prison.”
Tichenor told Yoder, “You preyed upon the victim. You disregarded the dangers and warning signs for your own sexual desires. You were in the capacity as a trusted individual.”
Western Mennonite operates a residential campus on 45 acres north of West Salem in Polk County. It serves domestic and international students in grades 6-12, many from the McMinnville area.
Yoder, a McMinnville resident, taught social studies at the school for four years. He also coached junior varsity baseball and basketball.
He was terminated in conjunction with his February 2012 arrest. He posted the required $5,000 to secure his release and has been free on bond.
Miller described the course of events this way for the court:
In the spring of 2010, the victim and her mother moved into the McMinnville neighborhood where Yoder was residing with his wife and young child. While she had enrolled at Western Mennonite as a freshman, the then 15-year-old did not have Yoder for any classes.
They became acquainted, and what began as a friendship developed into a romantic relationship. It reached the point where the two were having sex on a regular basis into her junior year.
“The victim told a friend,” Miller said. “The friend said she would tell someone if the victim did not tell. The defendant told the victim that they had to make sure they got their stories straight.”
School administrators called police after Yoder met with the vice-principal and chaplain to admit having engaged in a sexual relationship with the student. The two often met at his McMinnville home, he later told Detective Michelle Formway of the McMinnville police, but also met at her residence.
Miller said Yoder alleged at various points that the victim had flashed him, tried to blackmail him or engaged in other questionable behavior. However, she said there were many inconsistencies in accounts he provided.
“She tried to break it off, and he was not willing,” Miller said. “She was a vulnerable victim — she had been sexually abused in the past — and the defendant was aware of that. She viewed the defendant as a mentor and a role model.”
Miller said there were many warning signs that should have served as red flags of an inappropriate relationship. She said fellow students told school officials they were uncomfortable with the relationship between the two, noting they often spent time together in his room with the door closed.
Yoder warned the victim if word ever got out that the two were having an affair, she would be the one going to jail, not him, Miller told the court. Yoder screamed and yelled at the victim on a regular basis, making her feel there was no way out, she told the court.
Miller read a statement from the victim’s mother, who said she placed her trust in Yoder, feeling it was good for her daughter to have an adult in whom she could confide.
“The abuse went on for 1 1/2 years, and he never tried to do the right thing and say, ‘Enough is enough,’” the mother said in the statement. “She was on an emotional roller coaster. He was angry at her for wanting to break it off.”
The victim’s father addressed the court in person. He said many people had been hurt by the defendant’s actions, including his daughter’s parents and siblings, as well as members of Yoder’s family.
“I ask that Mr. Yoder get what is fair, neither the maximum or the minimum, but in the middle,” he said. “I would like Mr. Yoder to accept responsibility for his actions.
He asked that Yoder be taking into custody immediately.
“His ability to live freely for more than two years, pending sentencing, makes a mockery of our legal system.”
Tom Brewer, a clinical psychologist from Portland, testified for the defense by phone. Forensic psychologist Scott Senn of McMinnville testified for the defense in person.
Brewer said he had been treating Yoder, and found him responsive.
“He has shown the capacity for insight and the ability to look at himself,” Brewer said.
He estimated Yoder would need about 18 months of additional treatment.
Based on his examination, Senn said, Yoder is at low risk for offending again. He should have established boundaries, Senn said, and took responsibility for his failure to do so.
He concurred in Brewer’s assessment that Yoder was making progress in treatment.
“I’m deeply sorry,” Yoder told the court when his turn came. “I should have acted like an adult.
“I hurt her family, my family and my profession. I betrayed my wife, who has stood by me, and I betrayed my baby son. I will do whatever I can to make amends for this.”
The victim did not attend the sentencing hearing, but previously told Miller she approved of the 60-month proposed sentence.