Two months after pleading guilty to 49 counts related to sexually abusing eight young boys in his classroom at Shenendehowa Central schools, Christopher Culver was sentenced to 12 years in state prison.
Since the teacher’s arrest Feb. 11, the high-profile criminal case has been a roller coaster ride for the parents of the young victims, and for parents across the county horrified by the charges and the ramifications for the families.
The case did not come to a close at the sentencing, however, as Culver indicated his wish to withdraw his guilty pleas, claiming police violated his rights.
Culver told Saratoga County Judge Jerry Scarano that he had been the subject of a witch hunt and that his statements were coerced.
Saratoga County District Attorney James A. Murphy III immediately vocalized his disbelief and promised to fight this new attempt on Culver’s part to delay jail time.
`We will absolutely fight him tooth and nail to get his pleas back,` said Murphy. `This is an outrageous claim on Culver’s part. He didn’t just plead guilty once, he pled 49 times. This is contrived and desperate on his part.`
On Nov. 26, following Culver’s court appearance and admissions of guilt, defense attorney Terence Kindlon told members of the press his client was trying to spare the families more grief as they prepared to testify. Over their Thanksgiving break from school, the second graders were brought into the imposing county courtroom to prepare for what was ahead.
`Make no mistake about it, he was guilty,` Kindlon said on Nov. 26. `This case was try-able, and we reasonably expected acquittals on some of the indictments, but (Culver) insisted on pleading to the entire count because he didn’t want to subject the victims to being witnesses at a trial.`
It has been estimated Culver would be likely to serve 85 percent of the 12 years handed down.
Although clearly agitated and sobbing on Nov. 26, Culver answered each count read by Judge Scarano with an admission of guilt.
`No one can force you to plead guilty, you must do so freely and voluntarily,` Judge Scarano advised Culver. `You must be aware of your fifth amendment rights against self-incrimination. These are felony charges, and if you enter a guilty plea and are convicted of another felony within 10 years, you will go to state prison.`
Now, in order to officially ask Judge Scarano to consider the withdrawal of his plea, Culver must file a motion showing newly discovered evidence of coercion.
Kindlon will not be representing Culver in this new motion, and Murphy said Culver could potentially seek a public defender for this latest action.
`We have not received the application, nor heard he has new representation, but we’re waiting to see what he does next,` said Murphy. `I can’t stress enough that we’ll defend this sentence to the end. He’s a convicted felon; nothing will change that.`
Murphy said his office originally pushed for a 16-year jail term, but agreed to 12 if Culver pleaded guilty to all 49 counts. When Culver did this, Murphy assured members of the public his office was not accepting pleas to any reduced charges.
`This is not a plea bargain,` said Murphy. `This was as if the jury came back with a guilty verdict on every single count.`
The charges also included nine counts of second-degree sexual misconduct against a child, and eight counts of endangering the welfare of a child `likely to be injurious to the physical, mental or moral welfare of a child.`
Culver, who was on paid leave from the Shenendehowa school district until his guilty pleas, was terminated as a staff member and ordered by Judge Scarano to surrender his teaching certificate to the New York State Department of Education. Following his release from jail, he will face nine years of post-release supervision, and will also be required to register as a state Sex Offender. The existing orders of protection barring Culver from any contact with the victims will now carry permanent status. At one point considered a flight risk, Culver was also required to hand over his passport and birth certificate.
`We want this over and done with, and Culver removed from the streets where he could cause harm to another child,` said Murphy.“