New Jersey high school teacher Nicole Dufault has pleaded guilty to having sexual relations with six male students who were between the ages of 14 and 15, years after initially claiming that she was the real victim.
The former Columbia High School language arts teacher had originally been indicted by a grand jury in February 2015, but just this week reached a plea deal with Essex County prosecutors to avoid going to trial, the New York Post reported. As part of the deal, Dufault pleaded guilty to three counts of criminal sexual contact. She was also forced to give up her teaching license and will have to register as a sex offender.
As CBS New York reported, prosecutors plan to ask that she be sentenced to five years in prison and remain under parole supervision for life after her release.
The 40-year-old had sex with the students multiple times on school grounds between 2013 and 2014, prosecutors said. In one of those instances, she was allegedly caught on tape performing oral sex on one of the victims while another teenage boy was nearby, the report noted.
Dufault’s case made national headlines at the time of her arrest, with her attorney claiming in court that the teenage boys had been the ones who coerced her into having sex.
“She’d pled not guilty, we believe in her innocence,” defense attorney Timothy Smith said at an initial court hearing.
He added that he believed his client was the actual victim in the case.
“We believe, as I have asserted before, my client is the victim of a certain form of sexual assault and we stand by that,” he said.
But Dufault changed her plea at the last minute before going to trial and now appears to be facing a lesser punishment than what prosecutors had initially pursued. As the CBS New York report noted at the time of her earlier court hearing, it was originally discussed that she be sentenced to prison for 15 years.
The teacher‘s school also spoke out at the time of her arrest, offering counseling services to students and asking parents to watch for any signs that they may be stressed or traumatized.
“The CHS administrative team, guidance counselors, student assistance counselors, school social workers and teachers are actively supporting students and staff impacted by events,” a letter sent to parents read. “If your child is showing signs of stress in reaction to the events or the investigation, please reach out to his or her guidance counselor or a member of the administrative team.”
Dufault will be sentenced on June 8.