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DUCHESNE — Shay Price dropped his face to his hands Monday and kept it there for a moment, working to regain control of his emotions before going on.
"I'm not a monster, I'm not a predator, and I'm not a bad person," Price told Judge Samuel Chiara. "I'm a man who made some poor choices that have caused sorrow for so many."
Many of those people were in the courtroom Monday as Price was sentenced for having sexual contact with a student while working as a teacher and coach at Tabiona High School. The 35-year-old also sent the girl pornographic images of himself, according to prosecutors.
"I have seen the letters that were written on Mr. Price's behalf," Duchesne County Attorney Stephen Foote told the judge. "I'm not convinced that (the letter writers) know the real Mr. Price, to be honest with you. They all know part of his life, but they don't know the full part."
Foote pointed out that investigators found more than 100 photos of Price's genitals on Price's cellphone. They also found sexually explicit photos of the victim on a cellphone that Price still had but no longer used.
The case against Price began in December, when a woman came forward and alleged that she'd had sexual contact with Price while she was a teenage student at Tabiona High.
"The first time he told me he wanted to make out with me, it scared me and I told him I couldn't do that to his wife and daughter," said the woman, who acknowledged in court that she sent Price a text message as "a joke" when she was 15 years old that said another girl found him attractive.
"He told me that he wanted to be my first kiss and that he could teach me how," the woman said, adding that Price continued to pursue her over the next three years, sending and asking for sexually-explicit photos, "rubbing himself against" her in the locker room at school, and eventually engaging in a sex act with her.
The woman said the years of "grooming" and abuse led her to drink heavily, engage in self-harm and even threaten suicide.
"The night I decided to end my life I was talking to him on the phone," she said. "I told him I had the pills ready and he would never have to hear from me again. He told me he had the cops on speed dial and would send them down to get my body."
We expect, in our society, that our children will be protected when they are sent to school. Because of your position as a school teacher, society expects more of you.
–Judge Samuel Chiara
Price, during his statement to the court, apologized to the woman and her family for his actions. Defense attorney Loni DeLand told Chiara that his client has accepted responsibility for what he did, despite the findings of a pre-sentence report prepared by Adult Probation & Parole.
"Certainly AP&P did not conduct enough investigation or interview time with my client to make any determination with respect to what he is saying," DeLand said, adding that a psychosexual evaluation of Price showed he is a low risk to re-offend.
Chiara, however, questioned whether Price fully understood the gravity of his conduct.
"You took photographs of your naked body and sent them to a student," Chiara said. "I don't know how it got to that point, but those are really poor decisions that you were making at that point. And then you have photographs of her that you retained. That gives me pause."
The judge also took notice of the number of letters he'd received voicing support for Price. He said he hoped people would continue to be supportive, but said he "hopes there is equal and greater support for the victim in this case, who was a child when this happened."
"You led her on and continued in behaviors that resulted in criminal behavior, and caused and inflicted substantial damage on her emotionally," Chiara told Price.
Chiara then ordered Price to serve up to five years in prison for unlawful sexual conduct with a 16- or 17-year-old and up to five years in prison for distributing pornography to a person under 18.
"We expect, in our society, that our children will be protected when they are sent to school," the judge said. "Because of your position as a school teacher, society expects more of you."
As Chiara announced the concurrent prison sentences, and bailiffs moved in to take Price into custody, a clearly surprised Price turned to DeLand and appeared to mouth the words, "You said this wouldn't happen."
Outside the courtroom, DeLand admitted that the prison sentence came as a surprise to him as well. "The judge obviously put a lot more credibility in the victim's statement," the veteran defense attorney said, adding that he considers Chiara to be "a great judge."