Seth Converse Stevens sent text messages with sexual content to one of his female students when he was a teacher at Ellinwood High School in 2009, Assistant County Attorney Amy Mellor said Thursday in Barton County District Court.
That was the case Mellor was ready to present to District Judge Mike Keeley at Stevens’ preliminary hearing. However, Stevens waived his right to the hearing and entered a plea of "no contest" to one count of attempted electronic solicitation, a level 5 person felony. After hearing a summery of the evidence from Mellor, Judge Keeley found Stevens guilty and ordered a pre-sentencing evaluation.
Mellor said Kansas Bureau of Investigation Agent Cory Latham was prepared to present evidence. "In February of 2009, the defendant began a series of text messages with a young juvenile who was a student in his class in Ellinwood," she said. "Those texts were sexual in nature."
Stevens was originally charged with two counts of electronic sexual solicitation of a minor, stemming from allegations involving two different 15-year-old girls. After plea negotiations, the first count was amended to a lesser crime and the second count was dropped in exchange for his plea. His attorney believes Stevens has one prior criminal conviction, for a misdemeanor committed in Ellsworth County, and if that is correct the sentence allowed under state guidelines would fall between 17 months and 46 months.
The state relies on a sentencing chart that gets progressively tougher for multiple crimes, drug crimes or crimes committed against persons. The lowest levels on this sentencing grid typically call for automatic probation, but Stevens’ case will fall in the "border box" — which means he could receive either time in prison or probation.
As part of the plea agreement, the Barton County Attorney’s Office won’t oppose probation, Mellor said.
Stevens answered "yes sir" and "no sir" as Keeley asked him several questions. He said he understood that the judge is not bound by the terms of plea negotiations, and said no one had promised him probation.
His attorney, Thomas Lemon from Topeka, asked that the court amend the condition of his bond that requires no contact with witnesses in the case. He still cannot have contact with the victim(s), but he may again have contact with his ex-wife and with his best friend, who were both listed as potential witnesses.
Stevens had been living in Topeka, but gave a Missouri address on Thursday. He will return for sentencing, which was tentatively scheduled for Oct. 14 but is expected to change because of scheduling conflicts. Sentencing will be handled by Barton District Court Judge Hannelore Kitts.