A former Kearney junior high school teacher who admitted having sex with a 14-year-old female student inside his locked classroom was sentenced Friday to nine years in prison.
Rhett C. Rigby, 28, of Oak Grove, pleaded guilty in November in Clay County Circuit Court to second-degree statutory rape and sexual contact with a student on public school property.
Rigby was charged in June 2013 with 10 sex crimes. Eight of those counts were dismissed as part of a plea agreement.
Those incidents happened between Oct. 1, 2012, and May 15, 2013, including at the child’s home and in Rigby’s classroom. Rigby and the student exchanged more than 8,000 explicit text messages, emails and sexually explicit photographs.
After a friend of the girl reported the relationship to school officials, they found a pregnancy test kit in his desk. The victim told investigators that Rigby made her provide a urine sample and that he sent her a photo of a negative result from a pregnancy test, ostensibly based on her sample, prosecutors said.
The courtroom was packed for Friday afternoon’s sentencing. About 60 people were there to support Rigby. Dozens had sent letters to the judge, describing Rigby as a good role model, a person of good morals, a man of God and an ethical teacher.
Rigby asked the judge for probation, saying he was not the same self-centered and arrogant person who did something “absolutely unforgivable.”
His attorneys, Molly Hastings and Keith O’Connor, presented the results of psychological testing that showed he was at low risk to reoffend.
The victim did not speak Friday, but her mother said the ordeal caused by Rigby’s “evil ways” had been a “nightmare from hell” for her daughter.
“I want this man to pay the price for what he’s done,” she told Circuit Judge Shane Alexander.
Kearney superintendent William Nicely said Rigby had committed a shameful violation of public trust and left a “mile-wide path of destruction.”
“This crime deserves the maximum punishment,” he said.
Clay County prosecutor Daniel L. White noted that when the girl first emailed Rigby, he had to make a choice. He gave her his private email, and they began their months-long relationship.
“This was not a momentary lapse in judgment,” White said. “This was a longtime situation between a 24/25 -year-old and a 14-year-old student.”
White, too, called it a violation of trust.
“He also violated the law and must be punished,” he told the judge.
While White recommended an eight-year prison sentence as part of the plea agreement, the judge imposed an extra year on the count involving incidents at the school that he called “especially reprehensible.”