There was no debate over Jennifer Rice’s sentence.
Under state statute, the only prison term possible for the former Tacoma school teacher, convicted of sex crimes involving a 10-year-old student and his older brother, was 25 years to life in prison.
Rice was a teacher with Yelm Community Schools in the 2005-2006 school year.
Pierce County Superior Court Judge Gary Steiner followed the law, but not before hearing from Rice and her family.
Rice, a 33-year-old wife and mother of three, made no excuses for her behavior and recognized the hurt she’s caused many people.
“I am desperately sorry for what I have done,” Rice said. “My behavior was careless, impulsive and selfish.”
She talked about her faith in God, her prayers for all those afflicted by her actions and promised to take part in counseling and follow the all recommended treatment while in prison.
“My heart is grieving when I think about my actions,” Rice said. “I accept the consequences of my actions.”
Prosecutors contended that Rice had a sexual relationship with the 10-year-old boy for several months while she was a teacher at Tacoma’s McKinley Elementary School. The ordeal came to light in August 2007, when Rice sneaked the boy out of his home and drove him to Ellensburg. The two had sex at a rest stop before she returned him to his home, court documents alleged.
During the course of the investigation, detectives learned Rice also had sex twice with the boy’s older brother in July 2007. The boy was 15 at the time.
Steiner convicted Rice in April of first-degree kidnapping, first-degree child molestation and two counts of third-degree rape. He found the kidnapping and child molestation charges were predatory offenses because the victim was a student. The predatory designation – required when a teacher is accused of certain sex crimes – meant Rice faced stiffer sentencing requirements.
The predatory law was passed overwhelming by state lawmakers in 2006, nine years after another Washington teacher – Mary Kay Letourneau – was convicted of having a sexual relationship with a student. Letourneau was sentenced to more than seven years in prison after being convicted for second-degree child rape. Rice’s allegations netted her a longer sentence than Letourneau because of the changes to state sentencing laws and the crimes she was convicted of, prosecutors said.
Neither the victims nor their parents attended Friday’s sentencing hearing. Attorneys for the family, which has sued the Tacoma, Bethel and Yelm school districts, sat in the courtroom but declined to comment afterward.
The family’s civil suit alleges the school districts negligently hired and supervised Rice and didn’t do enough to protect the students from her.
Thirteen friends and relatives of Rice attended the sentencing hearing and reiterated their support for her. Her father, husband and a friend spoke on her behalf during the hearing. None excused her behavior but told Steiner they still loved and supported her.
“We would give anything to change what’s happened,” her husband, Jason Rice, said.
Rice gets credit for the nearly two years she’s already served in jail. After serving the minimum 25 years, she’ll be eligible for release.
She’ll have to go before the state’s Indeterminate Sentencing Review Board, which could keep her locked up or release her.
Rice’s attorney, Gary Clower, said Friday he’s filed an appeal related to the predatory designation on two of Rice’s convictions.
Stacey Mulick: 253-597-8268