By Jeff Lehr
NEVADA, Mo. —
A former Bronaugh High School counselor accused of having sexual relations with students pleaded guilty Friday to two misdemeanor counts of assault in a plea deal requiring her to surrender her state teaching certificate.
Lori A. Layher, 37, of Moundville, pleaded guilty to the reduced charges at a hearing in Vernon County Circuit Court in Nevada and received suspended sentences.
Layher had been charged with single counts of statutory rape and statutory sodomy and four counts of sexual contact with a student by a school employee. The counts stemmed from alleged sexual contact with two boys under the age of 17 between Dec. 1, 2009, and March 31, 2010, both on and off school grounds.
The defendant was facing the prospect of up to seven years in prison if convicted of either of the statutory offenses and up to five years on each of the other four counts.
Julie Tolle, the assistant attorney general prosecuting the case, told Circuit Judge James Bickel that the plea agreement had been struck with the concurrence of the two male victims in the case, both of whom are now of age with one currently serving in the military.
Tolle said the state was recommending that Layher receive one-year suspended jail terms on each of the assault counts and two years of supervised probation, with a special condition that she surrender her certificate to teach in Missouri. The prosecutor said the defendant also would be waiving her right to appeal the revocation of her certificate and agreeing to “never teach again.”
The judge imposed one-year terms with suspended execution of the sentences and placed Layher on just one year of supervised probation.
The misdemeanor assault convictions pertain to the slamming of a car door on one of the victims and the grabbing of the other by his arm and forcibly removing him from her office at the high school.
The defendant was accused of much more serious offenses in a probable-cause affidavit filed with the original charges in November 2011 following a long investigation by the Vernon County sheriff’s office.
One of the students told an investigator that Layher asked for his cellphone number in late 2009 and he received a text message asking him to meet her at Bushwhacker Lake. The rendezvous allegedly led to sex in a parking lot at the lake. He told the investigator that on another occasion she invited him over to her house and engaged in both oral and conventional sex with him. The same student alleged that she engaged in oral sex with him multiple times in her office at the high school.
The other student claimed similar sexual trysts at the lake and at her home.
The attorney general’s office assumed prosecution of Lori Layher after the recusal of the Vernon County prosecutor’s office because of a potential conflict of interest related to the local probation office’s employment of a family member of the suspect.