UPDATE (5:15 p.m.)—An Anne Arundel County Circuit Court judge sentenced a former teacher and coach to 20 years in prison on Friday, suspending all but seven years.
Jeffery Robert Sears Jr., 30, entered an .
Judge Paul A. Hackner sentenced Sears to two 20-year terms for sex abuse of a minor, suspending all but seven, and one year for fourth-degree sex offense to be served concurrently. Sears will serve five years of probation and have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. Sears’ wife cried as Hackner leveled the sentence.
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Hackner said he felt Sears should be held to a higher standard as a teacher who is entrusted with people's children.
"It was not a few moments of gratitude, not a spontaneous loss of good judgment ... but something that happened over the course of years ... with girls who were vulnerable if only for the fact that you were their teacher," Hackner said.
The state requested Sears serve 10 years in jail while his defense attorney requested a sentence of four years or less.
after police alleged he had sexual relationships with three girls ranging in age from 15 to 16 while they were students at Glen Burnie High. Police said the incidents reportedly took place both on and off campus, during and after school hours, between November 2009 and October 2011.
By entering the Alford plea, Sears admitted that the state had enough of a case against him to find him guilty while maintaining his innocence. The plea carries the same weight as a guilty plea.
However, during the sentencing hearing Sears said he accepted responsibility for his actions.
“There’s little I can say to those I’ve hurt to bring them comfort,” he read from a prepared statement while fighting back tears. “My hope is that after today [the girls] can start to put this behind them.”
, Assistant State's Attorney Kathleen Rogers described alleged sexual relationships between Sears and three Glen Burnie students—one who graduated in 2011 and two who still attend the school.
Sears, who began teaching at Glen Burnie in 2006, taught English at the school and coached the junior varsity boys basketball team.
Two of the girls spoke of issues with nightmares due to the incidents with Sears, with Rogers reading a letter from one girl and another young woman making a statement to the court.
“It was a story I kept a secret, and then was forced to tell,” the young woman read to the court. “I have gone to therapy for years now. I have been on medicine for over a year now. I feel crazy. I feel I will never be the same. Which is true, I won’t. … You did this, but yet it is my fault.”
The allegations began in November 2011 when an assistant volleyball coach at Glen Burnie notified principal Vickie Plitt about a possible sexual relationship between Sears and a student. Plitt then notified the school system, which contacted social services.
The charges carried a total of up to 51 years in prison and a $1,000 fine, but the State's Attorney's Office recommended Sears serve no more than 10 years in prison.