A former Webb City High School teacher charged with having sexual contact with a student took a plea offer Tuesday just before jury selection was to begin for her trial.

Carrie L. Njoroge, 33, entered an Alford plea in Jasper County Circuit Court in a plea agreement allowing a suspended imposition of sentence and probation but requiring her to surrender her teaching certificate and begin registering as a sex offender.

An Alford plea admits no guilt but acknowledges the likelihood of a conviction if the matter were to proceed to trial. Circuit Judge David Mouton accepted the plea deal and granted the suspended imposition of sentence with five years of supervised probation.

The case had been set for trial Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. A panel of jurors was summoned for jury selection scheduled to start at 9 a.m. Tuesday. But a power outage in the area of the Jasper County Courts Building prompted the judge to release the jury pool until 1 p.m., by which time power to the building had been restored.

Njoroge's attorneys let the court know before jury selection began that she had decided to accept a plea offer that the Jasper County prosecutor's office had left on the table.

The choir teacher was accused of having sex with an 18-year-old male student on April 15, 2014, in her office at Webb City High School. The student told investigators that they had been having an ongoing sexual relationship for about three months. She was placed on administrative leave two days after having sex with the student in her office when allegations of the misconduct reached school administrators.

The age of consent in Missouri is 17. But state law makes it illegal for a teacher, teacher's aide or school volunteer to have sexual contact with a student regardless of the age of the student.

"We felt very strongly that she should take responsibility for her actions," Jasper County Prosecutor Theresa Kenney said. "Despite this boy being 18, he was a student at the high school and she was his teacher."

She said some people might not think it's that big a deal for Njoroge to have had sex with an 18-year-old boy. But people need to keep in mind, she said, that even 18-year-olds might not be mature enough to realize that they have the option of refusing the sexual advances of someone in a position of authority over them, such as a teacher.

Certificate forfeiture

Prosecutor Theresa Kenney said the surrender of Carrie Njoroge's teaching certificate means Njoroge will not be allowed to teach for the rest of her life.

Jeff Lehr is a reporter for The Joplin Globe. 

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