A former Brunswick County teacher charged with having sex with a student pleaded guilty last month to a lesser charge after she married the victim, preventing the state from compelling him to testify against her, a prosecutor said this week. […] [Leah Gayle Shipman] was a married Brunswick County Academy teacher when she was arrested in January 2009 on charges of sexual offense with a student, statutory rape and taking indecent liberties with a student. Shipman was immediately suspended from her job and her contract wasn’t renewed.
According to court records, Shipman divorced her husband on January 19, 2011 and six days later married her victim. Apparently the boy had his mother’s permission. The tricky issue is this: the boy was 15-years-old when Shipman began the abuse. She should be charged with a sex offense, but:
Under North Carolina law, the spouse of a defendant cannot be compelled to testify against the defendant in criminal cases or grand jury proceedings except in cases of bigamy; domestic violence; trespassing, when one trespasses upon another’s property during a separation; abandonment or criminal offenses against a minor child of either spouse.
That seems very odd, and I wonder if the law will be changed in light of situations like these. The police were left with only being able to charge Shipman with an offense based on text messages they found on her or the victim’s phone.
It is unclear whether Shipman married the boy out of genuine interest in him or just to avoid going to jail. She waited until the boy was 17 to get married, and one wonders why it took so long for the case to finally reach the point of prosecution. Had they proceeded with the case sooner, they might have been able to prosecute Shipman. Of course, given the boy’s choice, it is likely that he would have refused to cooperate anyway.