A former Washington C.H. City Schools part-time employee who “engaged in sexual conduct” with a 17-year-old male student has been convicted of one count of sexual battery.
Tonya K. Nelson, 43, pleaded “no contest” to sexual battery on Oct. 15 and she was then found guilty by Fayette County Common Pleas Court Judge Steven Beathard. Nelson is set to be sentenced for the third-degree felony on Jan. 11 at 8:30 a.m. “The statute has a presumption in favor of a prison sentence,” said Fayette County Prosecutor Jess Weade.
Also by statute, Nelson will be classified as a Tier III sex offender, the most serious sex offender classification in Ohio.
The Record-Herald reported last December that the Washington C.H. Police Department was investigating an alleged sexual relationship between a Washington City Schools former part-time employee and a Washington High School student who was 17-years-old at the time. The sexual conduct reportedly occurred sometime around September 2014 at Nelson’s home, 387 Ely St. in Washington C.H.
On Dec. 2, 2014, Washington City Schools Superintendent Matthew McCorkle reported an allegation of an inappropriate relationship. On the same day, Nelson resigned from her position of parent liaison/truancy prevention specialist, citing a need “to help take care of a terminally ill family member,” according to her resignation letter. McCorkle said that Nelson had been with the district for three years before her resignation.
McCorkle was informed of the allegation after the student’s girlfriend observed a text alerting her to the possible relationship between the student and Nelson, according to police reports.
“The cell phones from the alleged offender and the victim were confiscated and search warrants were obtained in order to search the stored data,” said Lt. Jon Long of the Washington C.H. Police Department. “We sent them to the Bureau of Criminal Investigation for the data extraction, which was then forwarded to us. Detectives perused the results, which included text messages, and were able to establish a phone to phone link between the alleged offender and the victim.”
Rather than go through the grand jury indictment process, the Fayette County Prosecutor’s Office chose to utilize a bill of information accusing Nelson of sexual battery. A bill of information is a formal written accusation charging an individual with a specific crime. The bill of information can be used instead of an indictment by a grand jury except to charge offenses carrying a potential penalty of death or life imprisonment.
“We went through the case file and found the charge that we believed best fit the criminal conduct,” said Weade. “We presented the information to her defense attorney and found out that she was willing to plead no contest, which for our purposes is as good as a guilty plea.”
Nelson agreed to waive an indictment and pleaded “no contest.” The benefit of a no contest plea, according to the Ohio State Bar Association public resources website, allows a defendant to avoid trial if the defense has become hopeless, but prevents the plea from being used against the defendant in any later civil or criminal proceeding. The plea also allows the opportunity to appeal rulings by the court, such as rulings allowing certain evidence to be used by the State.
Tier III offenders must register with the county sheriff every 90 days for life. In addition, they must register any change of residential address, place of employment, or enrollment in a school or institution of higher education. Tier III sex offenders are also subject to community notification, which means upon a change of address, the county sheriff will provide notice to a neighborhood within 1,250 feet of the sex offender’s residential address. The county sheriff will also provide notice to schools, day-care providers, and law enforcement agencies within the 1, 250-foot radius.
Nelson is currently out of jail after posting bond.
Reach Ryan Carter at 740-313-0352 or on Twitter @rywica