CLEBURNE COUNTY, AL (WBRC) - A former Cleburne County teacher and girls' basketball coach claimed he loved both of the female students he's accused of having sex with, and still plans to marry one of them.
Bronson Ward, 33, was sentenced Friday for having sex with a student in one of the cases. He was charged in September on five counts of having sex with a student under 19. He is also charged in a separate case of having sex with a different female student.
In his sentencing hearing on Friday, Ward said he was sorry and took full responsibility. He says he knew he was wrong to be a teacher and fall in love with both girls at separate times. He added that he still has plans to marry the second of his two victims, who were both high school seniors.
Ward claimed that he did not know it was against the law in Alabama for a teacher to have sex with a student 16 or older. The legal age for consent in Alabama is 16, and Ward said he felt that he had the parents' consent, according to what the victims had told him. In a video statement to police, he claimed that the girls approached him and their relationships were consensual.
The father of the victim in Friday's case read a letter during the sentencing hearing. The father said he felt that the day Ward recruited his daughter for the girls' basketball team was the day a predator marked his prey.
Numerous character witnesses were also called to the stand for Ward, including his mother and brother. A woman who grew up with Ward said she would trust him enough to let him coach and teach her 9-year-old daughter.
After about two hours, Cleburne County Circuit Judge Brian Howell sentenced Ward to a 15 year split sentence.
Ward will have to serve two years of the 15 year sentence, but will only spend another six months in jail since he gets credit for time served since his September arrest. He'll be under house arrest for the remainder of the two years, then under probation for the rest of the 15 year sentence.
Prosecutors wanted more time.
"Essentially his ruling will ensure that the defendant does not have access to further victims or children, and for that we are grateful," Jennifer Weems, Calhoun County Assistant District Attorney, said.
"It sends a message to teachers, anybody in power, not to manipulate the position to take advantage of young kids or children, because that's the most valuable asset there is," Heflin Police Chief A.J. Benefield said.
Ward is being held in the Cleburne County Jail. The case involving the second student is still pending, and he could be sentenced to additional jail time for that case.
Ward was first hired by Cleburne County Schools to be a P.E. teacher at Fruithurst Elementary School in 2004. He was later transferred to CCHS as an Access Distance Learning Teacher for Computer Lab in 2009.
Ward was the girls' basketball coach from the 2007-2008 school year until the 2010-2011 school year. He became the boys' junior high basketball coach and golf coach in 2011-2012.