FORT WORTH, Texas — A former Kennedale High School teacher was sentenced to five years in prison Friday evening after Tarrant County prosecutors asked jurors to show moral outrage that she treated students like a “buffet of possible sexual partners.”
Earlier Friday, the jury of seven men and five women deliberated less than an hour before convicting Brittni Colleps, 28, of 16 felony counts of improper relationship between an educator and student.
(PHOTO: Former Kennedale High School teacher Brittni Colleps enters the courtroom in Fort Worth, Texas, on Friday, August 17, 2012, to receive a five-year sentence after a jury found her guilty on 16 counts of improper relationships with students.)
According to testimony, Colleps, a married mother of three, had sex with five male students, four of them 18 and one 19, several times at her Arlington, Texas, home in spring 2011.
The jury was shown sexually explicit text messages and watched a cellphone video of Colleps having group sex with four of the students.
In the sentencing phase, her family, her attorneys and one of the students asked for the minimum sentence of probation, saying Colleps has been punished enough.
She needed to be home with her children — girls ages 8 and 6 and a boy age 5 — all of whom have acute asthma and allergies, they said.
“I’m asking you to have mercy on her as someone who has never done anything in her life wrong except for that time period,” said her mother, Shirley Bush. The children “need their mom. They don’t understand this. It’s not their fault.”
Prosecutors asked for the maximum of 20 years on each count and a $10,000 fine.
“You don’t have a crime captured on videotape very often, and that is what you have here,” prosecutor Elizabeth Beach said.
She was graphic in reminding jurors of the sexual encounters.
The students did not wear condoms on the night the video was made, Beach said. She described the amount of body fluids and possible diseases exchanged during the night as “staggering and it is disgusting. It’s completely disgusting.”
“That is the legacy that this senior English teacher left to her students,” Beach told jurors. “That is her legacy.”
The jury deliberated the sentence for a little less than three hours.
Although Colleps was technically given five years on each of 16 counts, the sentences will run concurrently.
Defense attorney Lex Johnston said Colleps must serve a year to 2 1/2 years before she is eligible for parole.
Johnston, who worked with Cynthia Fitch, said: “I think the jury will probably regret what they did. Nothing we can do about it. The jury spoke. We have some legal issues to work on later on down the road and we’ll see what happens.”
He said the sentence sends the message that Texas is “too conservative for our own good.” The Supreme Court will eventually tell Texas to back out of people’s lives and bedrooms, he said.
“These were not boys. These were not children. These were grown men who connived, conspired, worked with each other to be with this woman whose husband was away serving the military,” Johnston said.
Beach and co-prosecutor Tim Rodgers called the verdict “very fair.”
Prosecutors never offered Colleps a plea bargain because, Beach said, “we wanted a Tarrant County jury to evaluate and as the moral conscience of the community say this is what we think of this kind of behavior and we got a very clear message from the jury.”
Colleps was in the Tarrant County Jail on Friday night. State District Judge Ruben Gonzalez set her appeal bond at $15,000 on each count.
During the punishment phase Friday afternoon, a family friend, her husband, Christopher Colleps, and her mother testified that Colleps was the primary caregiver for her children.
“I want you to make sure you understand there’s three children that are going to be without a mother if she goes to jail,” the friend, Rita Nolan, testified.
Christopher Colleps was serving in the military outside the area when the crimes occurred.
Frequently breaking into tears, he acknowledged that he and his wife, who have been married for nine years, had engaged in group sex with another adult couple while living in Louisiana.
The last year has been “pretty rough,” he said, but he will stand by his wife.
“I feel like what she did was morally and ethically wrong. I feel like she has hurt me and my children, but I feel that’s between me and her and God.”
During closing arguments in the guilt-innocence phase Friday morning, Johnston told jurors: “This is a victimless crime. I didn’t hear from any children. These are grown men that are old enough to go to war.”
Prosecutor Beach noted that Colleps had signed a school policy promising to comply with the law not to have sexual relations with students.
According to a news release from the Tarrant County district attorney’s office, at least five cases of improper relationship between an educator and a student have been prosecuted in Tarrant County since the law was enacted in 2003.
Nine cases are pending.