TAMPA — Taking the stand in her own defense Tuesday, a Riverview teacher accused of sex acts with a 12-year-old student had an unforeseen explanation for hundreds of explicit text messages she sent the boy.
The texts, which described past sexual encounters and future possibilities in minute detail, were an educational tool for interesting the boy in his schoolwork and rewarding him with positive feedback, she testified.
"I recognize that it was explicit and inappropriate, but it was fantasy," said Ethel Anderson, 31, who at the time of her arrest was an award-winning instructor at Mango Elementary School. "I was trying to get his attention for the purpose of his education."
She denied ever having a real sexual relationship with the boy.
Anderson's explanation of the mass of evidence marshaled against her by prosecutors capped the second and last day of testimony in her trial in Hillsborough Circuit Court on charges including lewd and lascivious battery.
Prosecutors say Anderson performed oral sex at her home on a student she was tutoring in math. She had taught the boy when he was a first-grader, though the sex acts did not begin till he was 12, authorities say.
The jury could reach a verdict as soon as today.
Testifying before Anderson did, her accuser described an unremarkable set of preteen courtship rituals — dates with her at the mall, watching Twilight, making out on the sofa — translated into what could have been an alternate universe. The alternate universe was south Hillsborough County.
"I felt like she was a real girlfriend," the boy said. "She said that I was her boyfriend and that she loved me. … She would say that she wanted me so bad, and she wanted to go further, but I just didn't want to lose my virginity to a teacher." He said he never had intercourse with Anderson, who at the time was 29.
The boy was testifying on his 14th birthday. The Tampa Bay Times is not identifying him because of the nature of the case.
His mother, equipped with a recording device by the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, duped Anderson into confessing to multiple sex acts with the boy during a conversation at Mango Dog Park, authorities said. In the recording, played in court, a sobbing Anderson apologizes repeatedly after the mother appeals to the teacher's professed Christian ideals.
"I was having a hard time looking for my own forgiveness about it, knowing that it was wrong," Anderson said on the recording. "I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry."
Anderson's last-minute decision to testify in her own defense prolonged a trial that was expected to end Tuesday. Even more surprising was her description of the unconventional pedagogy she asserted was behind her texts and confession.
She made the admission to the boy's mother, Anderson said, because "she kept asking me the same questions repeatedly and she was not going to let go until I told her it happened."
Assistant State Attorney Rita Peters brought Anderson's attention to an exchange of texts in which the boy told her he wanted to have sex with her. Anderson's texted response: Tingles just reading that.
"I was attempting to make him feel that he had done something positive," Anderson told Peters. "The way that he responded indicated that it was working," she added.
"Just part of the sexual therapy to make him a good student?" Peters asked.
" 'Sexual therapy' is your phrase," Anderson replied, "but sure."
Anderson kept her composure during her testimony, and often turned, smiling, toward two rows of stone-faced jurors.
Peter Jamison can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3337. Follow him on Twitter @petejamison.