A former Decatur High School teacher charged in 2016 with having sexual relations with two Decatur High students received a sentence requiring her to serve time in prison.
In a sentencing hearing Thursday, Morgan County Circuit Judge Jennifer Howell handed down a 10-year sentence for Carrie Cabri Witt, 48, split to serve three years —18 months in the Department of Corrections and 18 months in a community corrections program — with the remainder of the sentence to be served on three years of probation.
About 20 supporters of Witt were seated in the courtroom, and people gasped and sobbed when Howell announced her sentence.
Before she was sentenced, Witt told the judge: “I lost my career that I loved and worked hard for. I lost my church and my church family. I lost my home.”
Witt apologized to Decatur City Schools and former students and co-workers. “I let them down,” she said. She also apologized to her parents and daughter, saying: “They have endured everything I have endured” and continued to support her.
“I’m ashamed,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve ever been more ashamed of myself.” Since her arrest, she said, her character and “my ability to be a mother” have been criticized.
Before the sentencing, Howell, who reviewed letters of support from Witt’s family and friends, said she believes Witt is a “good person,” but “I think you made a terrible mistake on a number of occasions.” And, Witt and the student “kept it a secret,” she said.
Morgan County Assistant District Attorney Courtney Schellack told the judge that the former student, who testified Thursday, said “(the act) was consensual, and that’s true.” However, Witt was in “a position of power,” Schellack said. “She was still in charge of his grades.” The former student was 18 at the time.
“She was in a position of trust,” Schellack said. Witt should see the “inside of a jail cell,” she said, adding that incarceration is warranted and necessary in this case.
The former student testified that he doesn’t really agree with the law that prohibits school employees from having sex with students under the age of 19. “The crime doesn’t fit the punishment,” he said.
Robert Tuten, one of Witt’s attorneys, said her lawyers challenged the constitutionality of the statute, but “we are bound by our client’s wishes not to file a federal appeal.”
Tuten said Witt has suffered psychologically and emotionally over the years. “She lost her job,” he said. “She lost her career. She lost her teaching profession. She lost her house.”
Witt entered a guilty plea in March to one count of a school employee engaging in a sex act with a student under the age of 19. Prosecutors agreed to dismiss a second count. Witt entered a “blind plea” without an agreement with the District Attorney’s Office on a sentence.
Witt was also required to register as a sex offender.
She was arrested in March 2016 after an investigation by Decatur police for two counts of engaging in a sex act with a student under the age of 19 years and was released after posting bond. One student was 17 when the physical relationship started and the other was 18, according to police.
The range of punishment for the Class B felony is two to 20 years in the Department of Corrections.
Witt was placed on paid administrative leave after her arrest, and she resigned in August 2018, on the day before her scheduled due process hearing with the Decatur City Schools Board of Education.
Witt’s attorneys had argued in court filings that the 2010 statute under which their client was charged — prohibiting a school employee from engaging in a sex act or deviant sexual intercourse with a student — is unconstitutional. They said there are laws to protect people who are incapable of consent because of age, mental defect, physical incapacity and in cases of coercion or fraud.
Under state law, Witt’s attorneys wrote, anyone without a specified infirmity who is at least 16 years old is capable of consenting to sex.
Attorneys from the Morgan County District Attorney’s Office and the Alabama Attorney General’s Office argued the statute was constitutional and was necessary to protect students from sexual advances by school employees.
Now-retired Morgan County Circuit Judge Glenn Thompson heard arguments from both sides and in 2017 dismissed the charges against Witt. The state appealed and the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals reversed Thompson's ruling and ordered that the charges be reinstated against Witt.
“I do wish we could have appealed it to federal court,” but the financial and emotional toll on his client would be “too much,” Tuten said after the sentencing.
“It’s an important case, it’s an important case for Alabama,” Tuten said. “The state wants educators and school employees to know they’re serious about this.”
In a release, Schellack said: “Teachers are some of the most trusted and respected members of society. Ms. Witt violated that trust by her actions with one of her own students. That is exactly why this law is necessary — to protect students and their safety at school.”
District Attorney Scott Anderson said in the release, “Ms. Witt violated a law passed by the Alabama Legislature and held to be constitutional by the Alabama Court of Appeals. All teachers have a duty to not only educate, but also to protect all students placed in their care. Ms. Witt violated the law and her duty. As such, I believe that a crime of this nature is deserving of a prison sentence. The sentence was what we expected for this case, and we’re not disappointed with it.”