Price convicted on all charges Teacher guilty of 7 counts of child abuse

September 09, 1993|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Staff Writer Staff writers Carol L. Bowers and Andrea F. Siegel contributed to this article.

Ronald Walter Price was convicted yesterday of child abuse for having sex with three students at Northeast High School -- a verdict that brought sobs of joy from his victims and sent his enraged wife to the hospital.

An Anne Arundel County jury deliberated two hours and 25 minutes before convicting Price on all seven counts of having sex with the girls.

The 48-year-old former social studies teacher showed no emotion as the verdict was announced, but the face of his wife, Patricia, contorted with anger.

Mrs. Price, 25, who sat behind her husband throughout the two-day trial and testified on his behalf, tightly clutched the bench in front of her and gave an icy stare to the victims across the courtroom.

She muttered an obscenity at them as they left.

In a courthouse hallway later, she complained of being dizzy and was taken by ambulance to Anne Arundel Medical Center, a block from the courthouse, where she was treated and released, a hospital spokeswoman said.

Price, who admitted on national television and in his testimony yesterday to having sex with his students at the Pasadena school, claimed later he was being penalized for his honesty.

"The jury made their decision. It doesn't pay to tell the truth," he said as he was being escorted to a sheriff's car that would take him to the county Detention Center.

Price faces 76 years in prison when he is sentenced by Judge Eugene M. Lerner Oct. 22.

Jurors said they had no doubt of Price's guilt in two cases, but questioned whether he had sex with one victim, now 27, before or after she turned 18.

William Stevens, 35, a juror from Edgewater, said he could never forgive a teacher for having sex with students.

"I can't think of anything that they brought up that would've lead to an acquittal," he said.

Simple lesson

At a news conference in front of the courthouse after the verdict, prosecutor William C. Mulford II said the case offered a lesson for every teacher and student.

"The lesson is simple: Teachers don't have sex with students," he said.

Stepping up to the same microphones, Timothy F. Umbreit, Price's lawyer, said the verdict means that the jury of eight men and four women believed the victims and not his client.

He said he hopes to show Mr. Price's "positive" side at the sentencing.

"We need to let the judge know as much about the good in Ron Price as possible," he said.

The victims, who now range in age from 16 to 27, burst into tears when the verdict was announced. Later, they were whisked from the courthouse and unavailable for comment.

During the trial, they testified that Price approached them and offered support when they were emotionally vulnerable.

Yesterday, Mr. Mulford said they share a sense of relief and sorrow at the conviction of the teacher they once loved.

"There's still some very deep feelings there," he said.

Price offered an unusual defense, claiming that he didn't think it was a crime for a teacher to have sex with his students.

He testified that to his recollection, he only had relationships with the girls after school, when they were not in his "temporary care and custody," a legal standard for proving child abuse cases against teachers.

Says law is outdated

In closing arguments, his attorney told jurors that the law is outdated and has not kept pace with society's changing attitudes about sex.

"Young ladies in a school dress differently, they act differently. They're much more mature than anyone imagined when they wrote the statute," Mr. Umbreit said.

Mrs. Price appeared almost defiant as she testified that she saw nothing wrong with having sex at age 17 with her future husband, who was one of her social studies teachers.

"I had complete control of my faculties. I was mature for my age and I did what I felt I wanted to do," she said.

She said she forgave her husband for lying to her about having sex with a 15-year-old last year, telling the court the victims were only after money when they had relations with him and revenge when they went to the police.

School officials expressed relief with the verdict, saying it offered some affirmation that the criminal justice system would deal effectively with teachers who abuse students.

But school board member Jo Ann Tollenger said the sentencing will determine whether the message gets across.

"I'm pleased with the verdict," Ms. Tollenger said. "Now what I'm waiting to hear is what's happening with the sentencing.

"If the court slaps him on the wrist, what kind of message will the sentencing send? So far, the legal system is doing what it was intended to do."

Thomas Paolino, president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County said he was amazed "that anyone would think it is OK to have a relationship with a 15-year-old student. This was a very specific individual who very clearly crossed the line."

Victims are praised

Carolyn Roeding, president of the County Council of PTAs, praised the three former students who brought the charges.

"I think that all three young women should be commended for their courage for testifying the way they did," Mrs. Roeding said. "They are the heroes in this. They are the ones bringing about change in this county and possibly in this state."

Child sex abuse charges are still pending against two other Northeast teachers, Laurie S. Cooke, of Catonsville, and Charles A. Yocum, of Glen Burnie.

School officials say an independent investigation into how the school system has handled allegations of child abuse by teachers is due for completion Nov. 30.

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