DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – A former Volusia County teacher was sentenced to three years in prison Wednesday after pleading guilty to having sex with a middle school student.
Volusia Circuit Judge Raul Zambrano sentenced Stephanie Peterson, 27, after hearing from her family and the victim's mother and grandmother. Peterson must also register as a sex offender and serve probation.
The former New Smyrna Beach Middle School teacher pleaded guilty in October to a charge of lewd and lascivious battery.
Investigators arrested Peterson earlier this year after the 14-year-old boy and his parents came forward with the allegations.
Deputies said Peterson posed as a mentor only to have sex with the boy, in addition to sending him nude pictures and giving him drugs.
The student told a detective that Peterson sent him nude photos through Snapchat and Instagram. Detectives said they were able to identify Peterson because her face was visible in the photos.
According to an arrest report, Peterson would pick up the boy from his home after 11 p.m. while her husband was at work, bringing the boy home around 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. the next day.
At Wednesday's sentencing, a psychologist testified that Peterson is bipolar and at risk for suicide. The psychologist said she believes Peterson had a manic episode, prompting "irrational and impulsive" behavior. She said Peterson had the relationship with the boy for attention.
The psychologist said Peterson is low risk as a potential re-offender.
Zambrano agreed Peterson is mentally ill and said he wasn't expecting for her plea guilty and accept she was wrong.
Peterson's mother also testified at the hearing, saying Peterson's biological father was mentally abusive and never around to support her.
Through tears, she said her daughter puts everyone else first, describing her as supportive and wonderful.
"That's my kid. That's the person I know," she said.
Peterson's mother told the judge her daughter can be a productive member of society, and she requested a community-based sentence for her.
Peterson's mother also apologized to the victim's family, saying her daughter is very sad and remorseful.
Peterson's adoptive father said from the stand that he's also very remorseful and said he'd be willing to pay restitution to the victim's family.
The victim's grandmother testified, saying sexual predators need to be held accountable. The boy's mother also took the stand, saying her son used to be vibrant, but now he's angry and lonely and isolates himself.
Peterson testified saying she wants to scream she's sorry every day. If given the chance, she said she would tell the boy, "I'm sorry."
She also said she wanted to commit suicide in the police car the day she was arrested.
The defense argued that being registered as a sex offender would be punishment enough and requested community service or house arrest. The state wanted seven to 10 years.
"You have to pay for this mistake," Zambrano told Peterson upon sentencing her to three years in prison, adding, "You're so smart and do the most insane of acts."
In addition to 3 years in prison, Peterson will serve two years on house arrest and five years of sex offender probation for having a sexual relationship with 14-year-old boy.