Brittany von Stein expressed remorse at a court hearing Wednesday for engaging in sexual relations with a former student but pleaded with a judge not to send her to prison.
The former Basalt High School choir teacher spoke about the case for the first time since her arrest on Sept. 4, 2019, during the sentencing hearing. She said she wanted to publicly apologize to the victim and his family.
“He deserved to have a normal junior and senior year in high school and I took that away from him,” von Stein said Wednesday. “As the result of my conduct, I created a victim. I’m ashamed, I’m embarrassed and I apologize.”
She also said she hurt many other people. The community felt betrayed, von Stein said, while her own family was heartbroken and confused. She also apologized to her music students and said she hoped the incident didn’t taint their experiences.
Von Stein, 27, and her attorney, Michael Fox, revealed that she was herself a victim of sexual assault at the ages of 14 and 17. They didn’t elaborate on the alleged incidents. Von Stein said has been seeing a therapist certified to work with sexual offenders. She said she now understands that her sexual trauma “distorted” her view of healthy relationship development, but stressed that wasn’t an excuse for her actions.
“I accept full and complete responsibility without any excuse because there is no excuse for my actions,” von Stein said.
She also suggested she has suffered because of her actions, as well.
“The past year I’ve been torn apart in newspapers, blogs, over texts and social media and harassed in the neighborhood, local restaurants and my place of employment,” von Stein said. “My family and I have been living in the anxiety of the unknown for over a year. I’m not sharing this for remorse, but to make the point that I never want to make decisions to be back here.”
Von Stein was a music teacher at the Basalt High School and Basalt Middle School since 2015 until she was released last September. She was widely acclaimed for an award-winning high school choir program and school musicals were a proud community event. Von Stein was named the 2018 Outstanding Young Educator Award from the Colorado Music Educators Association.
“To fall from grace in a small community is not something I would wish on anyone, but what I have gone through is only a portion of what the victim went through or will eventually go through,” von Stein said.
While speaking during a teleconference with the judge, she broke down a couple of times during her presentation. After composing herself, she concluded by saying, “Your Honor, once again I want to take responsibility for my actions but I do not believe that I belong in prison. I have respected and followed the law for 27 years. I made this mistake but this does not define me.”
Fox entered about 80 letters with character references for von Stein in the court record. Von Stein’s parents and a friend also testified on her behalf at the sentencing hearing before Garfield County District Judge James Boyd.
The prosecutor in the case, Zac Parsons, said the 9th Judicial District Attorney’s Office also received letters seeking strict punishment for von Stein. He agreed that the issue has torn apart the community. The victim and his family have also been subjected to criticism from friends and online commenters.
“I would be remiss to say that some of the comments that have been seen, some of the comments that have been heard, if genders had been reserved, they would be met with significant disdain,” Parsons said. “The amount of victim blaming is beyond the pale.”
Parsons and Fox offered conflicting portrayals of von Stein’s relations with the student. Fox said the teacher rejected a physical advance from the student and also rejected advances via texts. The two later exchanged a kiss that led to an encounter, Fox said.
He urged the judge to sentence von Stein to the minimum sentence allowed: 10 years of probation.
“I don’t think she should be defined by the worst thing she’s done,” Fox said.
But Parsons drew a different picture of von Stein’s behavior. He said expert analysis of her cellphone records indicated 19.68% of her calls over a certain time period were with the victim and she initiated most of the calls. Rather than a single encounter, he said the evidence showed there was an ongoing sexual relationship. The victim would regularly drive to von Stein’s apartment in Carbondale on Saturdays and they engaged in sex, Parsons said.
Parsons also said the investigation into von Stein’s actions as a teacher indicated she regularly appointed two or three boys as teacher aides during her years of service. In at least one case, a boy had a close relationship with von Stein while he was in school. It developed into a sexual relationship after he graduated, Parsons alleged.
Parsons contended there were signs she “groomed” boys for relationships through her action. A plea agreement in the case allowed her to admit her guilt and avoid what would have been a “very hurtful jury trial.”
Von Stein pleaded guilty July 14 to one count of sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust. Four counts of sexual assault on a child showing a pattern were dismissed.
Parsons said the case warranted a 12-year prison sentence.
After hearing testimony for nearly two hours, Boyd took a short recess to review materials before handing down his sentence.
He sentenced her to 90 days in Garfield County Jail, 500 hours of useful public service, at least 10 years of probation once she is released from jail and $3,235.11 in restitution that wasn’t defined. Boyd also said von Stein must register as a sex offender and undergo therapy. He said the probation would go on for as long as therapists see a need, which could be for the rest of her life.
“Ms. von Stein, this is the kind of case, because of its seriousness, that one could view the sentence as a close call, the choice between probation and prison,” Boyd said. “I mention that only to emphasize that you need to very careful. This is a very long probation and you need to be very careful that you follow all of its requirements. If for some reason you would have to come back before the court, the outcome might be very, very different. I hope you find a way to use the talents you have in positive ways and to eliminate the negative ways you have used them in the past.”