News Article Details

Judge considering motion to dismiss in Joplin student sex case

Joplin Globe - 3/13/2020

Mar. 13--A judge has taken under advisement the efforts of the Jasper County prosecutor's office to get a woman who worked at the Leffen Center for Autism ordered to stand trial on charges that she had sexual contact with a 17-year-old student there.

Stacie Bilyeu, the attorney for Victoria J.S. West, 29, of Joplin, presented Associate Judge Joe Hensley with a motion to dismiss the charges against her client before a preliminary hearing in Jasper County Circuit Court. The judge took the defense motion and the prosecution's response under advisement, along with testimony presented at the hearing Thursday morning, and had not issued a ruling by the end of the day.

West was charged in December with two counts of sexual contact with a male student at the center, which contracts with the Joplin School District to provide educational services to students with special needs. She is accused of having sex with the boy on two occasions at Schifferdecker Park.

West worked at the center as a behavioral therapist, according to a probable-cause affidavit filed in the case.

Bilyeu asked the judge to dismiss the charges on the grounds that the charging statute is "unconstitutionally vague and overly broad," in particular a clause that pertains to anybody employed by an entity that contracts with a school district. She said that as it stands the statute is entirely too arbitrary in the authority it provides local prosecutors in deciding who may be charged with the offense.

She argued that the statute is so broad that it might be construed to apply to a 17-year-old student who delivers a pizza to a school function and has sex with his student girlfriend.

Assistant Prosecutor Taylor Haas argued that the statute is not vague and does not provide prosecutors undue discretion in determining who can be charged under it. He pointed out that the law's constitutionality was challenged unsuccessfully once previously in the case of a Webb City teacher charged with the offense.

The autism center case became all the more interesting Thursday when the teen was called to testify and expressed the opinion that he was not a victim and that the prosecution of West "isn't necessary at all."

He began his testimony with some embarrassment, stating: "This is awkward, and I'm sorry. But this is weird."

He went on to relate under questioning by Haas how he met West for the first time while attending the center as a student. He said their relationship began casually enough but progressed to an exchange of phone numbers and meetings outside of school. He described those meetings as "just chilling" together and listening to music. Eventually, things turned physical, he said.

Haas proceeded to elicit testimony from him that West had touched him and committed an oral sex act with him both that time and on a second occasion in the park. He said the relationship has since ended. But he also wanted to make one thing clear: He does not fault West.

"I'm not a victim at all," he said. "Anybody who knows me knows I'm not a saint."

On cross-examination by Bilyeu, he acknowledged that the encounters with West were not his first sexual encounters. He agreed that West had no authority over him at the center and did not use any such authority to seduce him. She also never asked him to keep the matter quiet and not to tell anyone about their relationship, he testified in response to Bilyeu's questions.

He further acknowledged that he was going through a tough time last year, even becoming suicidal at times. West knew this and they exchanged phone numbers so he would have someone he could contact when he was feeling down, he said.

Bilyeu asked who initiated the sexual contact.

"She didn't come on to you, did she?"

"It's hard to say," he replied, adding that it "was kind of mutual" as to who initiated what happened.

State law

It is legal in Missouri to have consensual sexual contact with someone 17 years old unless they are a student and the person engaging in sexual contact with them is a teacher, a student teacher, an employee of the school, a volunteer at the school or with an organization working with the school and is not a student of the school, an elected or appointed official of the school district, or an employee of an entity that contracts with the school or school district.


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