Brittany von Stein, the former Basalt High School choir director who in July pleaded guilty to one count of sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust, was sentenced Wednesday morning to a minimum 10 years of supervised probation and 90 days in the Garfield County Jail.
Garfield County District Chief Judge James Boyd warned von Stein that his sentencing decision was a tough one — while the defense asked for a probationary sentence, the prosecution made a case for 12 years in the Department of Corrections.
“Ms. von Stein, this is the kind of case because of its seriousness, one could view the sentence as a close call between the choice between probation and prison. This is a very long probation, and you need to be very careful,” he said. “If for some reason you had to come back to the court, the outcome may be very, very different.”
Von Stein must report to the jail by 6 p.m. Wednesday as a condition of her probation. Boyd denied a request by defense attorney Michael Fox to a stay of execution until Friday, when her parents — who addressed the court on behalf of their daughter — were returning home to Ohio. He additionally denied a request to allow von Stein an opportunity to leave the jail to work during weekends.
“Certainly Ms. von Stein knew she might have had the possibility of going to prison today. I’m giving her the seven hours or so that’s available, but it does need to be by 6 p.m. today,” he said. “I do not think workender in this case fits the severity of the crime. Anyone going to jail has work disruptions. Even though this may disrupt Ms. von Stein for 90 days, she will probably have more likelihood than most for employment.”
During the sentencing hearing, Fox portrayed his client as a victim of past sexual assaults herself as a teenager, contending that her failure to process those traumas negatively influenced her self esteem and ability to create healthy boundaries and relationships. He underscored that although those experiences do not excuse her behavior, von Stein did not abuse her position as a teacher by grooming the victim — rather, he argued, she in fact turned down earlier advances from the victim before an eventual “consensual relationship” ensued.
“As this court is aware, sex between a 17-year-old and a 25-year-old is legal under Colorado law. It’s not a crime. What makes these allegations illegal and significant is there was a position of trust relationship,” Fox said. “She is just here today to take accountability and to admit that she had sexual encounters with this young man victim — and also acknowledge, though, that there was no grooming that took place here. Ms. von Stein did not pursue this young man. She did not look at this as a situation where she could take advantage of someone.”
To bolster his point, Fox submitted more than 80 character reference letters attesting to von Stein’s commitment to community. Ultimately, Boyd said it was the “very significant volume of mitigating information” that persuaded him to issue a probationary sentence rather than prison.
But, the judge also considered Deputy District Attorney Zac Parsons’ argument — which told a different story than one of an isolated incident with one student. Rather, Parsons said, investigators identified and interviewed another of von Stein’s former students with whom she had a sexual relationship.
“He indicated that while in school, particularly during his senior year, he was a student aid for Ms. von Stein — he indicated he had a close and unique relationship,” he said. “Sexual contact didn’t happen, but basically, right after he was no longer a student and he had graduated, Ms. von Stein and he engaged in a sexual relationship. [That’s] just one example of what I consider — what I think the literature out there considers — to be grooming behavior.”
Parsons also noted that there were other students who did not cooperate with investigators.
“We know that for a fact with at least two students. There are other students that just refused to talk to the prosecution or the investigators about it, so we may never know,” he said.
The prosecution, too, received letters — unsolicited, Parsons emphasized — two from which he read samples during his presentation to the court. One in particular came from a female who had observed what she described as von Stein’s over attention to social media and the Basalt High School students’ “party scene” and that she “absolutely flirted inappropriately with boys.”
“What is more disturbing to me is she is still in contact with recent male graduates of Basalt High School. This is not normal behavior from someone who is facing the very serious charges that she is,” Parsons read from the letter.
Ultimately, though, while Boyd disagreed with the defense that the one day von Stein served incarcerated after her arrest in September last year was sufficient punishment for her crime, he did side with Fox that the minimum 10 years of supervised probation — which, as an indeterminate sentence, could last as long as the rest of her life — was significant.
“I think it is also important to know in highlighting what we’re asking for that this is going to carry with Brittany for the rest of her life. She is never going to teach again, that’s obvious. In 40 years, when she’s getting on social security, she will have to register as a sex offender. When she finally finishes her probation sentence, she will be, at a minimum, 36 years old,” Fox had argued.
In addition to those repercussions, Boyd added conditions to von Stein’s probation. She will register as a sex offender, pay more than $3,300 in restitution, complete 500 hours of useful community service within the first five years of her sentence and will not be allowed to use the internet or have contact with minors with out the express permission of her supervisory team.
Additionally, as part of the mandatory protection order that will remain in place for the duration of her sentence, von Stein is not allowed to consume alcohol or other drugs without a medical prescription.
“Remember, as soon as we’re off this court, you need to call probation and report to the jail by 6 p.m. tonight. Good luck,” Boyd told her.