A former substitute teacher who in August withdrew his guilty plea to having sex with a 16-year-old China Spring student pleaded guilty again Monday and is asking a jury to assess his punishment.
Joseph Douglas Rodgers, 29, is seeking probation from a 54th State District jury after pleading guilty to having an improper relationship between educator and student, a second-degree felony.
Rodgers, who now works for a Fort Worth law firm, was a substitute teacher for about a year at China Spring High School and taught the girl in a chemistry class.
But the relationship turned improper in July 2011 when Rodgers was hired to give the girl private tennis lessons, Rodgers’ mother, Suzanne Long, testified Monday for the defense.
Her son, Long said, didn’t get to know the girl well while she was in his upper-level chemistry class and he assumed that she graduated from high school when he was coaching her in tennis. He learned later that she was 16, she said.
“Yes, that’s when (the sexual relationship) stopped, but we are five years down the road now,” Long said.
Prosecutors initially sought an indictment in October 2014 that charged Rodgers with two counts of sexual assault of a child. Those charges were amended to one count of improper relationship between educator and student in March when the state and Rodgers reached a plea agreement in which prosecutors recommended Rodgers be placed on deferred adjudication probation.
Rodgers withdrew his guilty plea in August when Judge Matt Johnson rejected the plea bargain.
There were at least a dozen teachers on the main jury panel of 60 Monday morning and at least two teachers were selected for the jury.
Prosecutors Hilary LaBorde and Christi Hunting Horse opened testimony by calling Ronnie Fanning, an adult probation supervisor, to explain sex offender supervision to the jury.
She said the crime to which Rodgers pleaded guilty does not require him to register as a sex offender, although it is considered a sex crime. However, if the jury were to grant his request for probation, the judge could make him register as a sex offender as a term and condition of his probation as long as he is under the court’s supervision.
Rodgers faces from two to 20 years in prison, and he would have to serve a quarter of his sentence before he could seek parole if the jury recommends prison time, Fanning said. Prosecution testimony resumes Tuesday morning.