TAMPA — For nearly a year, Tevecia Bynum hasn't been able to embrace her son.
She could only see him from a distance. In court. On the news. On a TV screen at the county jail.
Her son, Joshua Bynum, was accused last year of raping a girl in a Chamberlain High School restroom. The girl, then 16, told police she had left her classroom to retrieve something from her locker. As she passed a boys' restroom on her way back to class, the girl said, Bynum pulled her inside and raped her.
Bynum, then 16, first told detectives he had no contact with the girl. He later told police the two had consensual oral sex. A medical exam proved that intercourse took place, police said.
He was charged with sexual battery and kidnapping.
On Monday, Bynum's mother heard a different story during her son's plea deal, where prosecutors dropped the sexual battery charge and reduced the kidnapping charge to felony battery.
Prosecutor Courtney Derry said the charges were reduced because of "potential weaknesses" in the case.
The girl's teacher told prosecutors that she had asked permission to go to the restroom. Another student in the class testified that the girl told her before she left the classroom that she was going to do "you know what" with Bynum, Derry said.
Another witness saw Bynum and the girl leave the restroom together and that they "appeared to be normal."
The girl also told prosecutors she didn't yell, scream or try to run while she was with Bynum.
The girl's mother declined to speak in the courtroom Monday, but Derry told the judge that she "is okay with the way the case is being resolved."
Hillsborough Circuit Judge Chet Tharpe sentenced Bynum, now 17, to 10 years of probation for the Oct. 3, 2011, incident and for crimes in an unrelated case.
Bynum's mother listened stoically as the judge handed down her son's punishment.
"I just wanted my son to be held accountable for what he's done," she said after the court proceedings ended. "I'm not making it seem like he's an angel, but he's not a monster."
Prosecutors said they sought a felony battery conviction because of conflicting statements in the case.
"The defense was interested in getting the sexual charges removed," said Mark Cox, spokesman for the Hillsborough County State Attorney's Office. "We were interested in getting the felony conviction."
In an unrelated case, Bynum also pleaded guilty Monday to grand theft of a motor vehicle, fleeing and attempting to elude police, obstructing an officer without violence, driving with a suspended license and reckless driving.
In January while out on bail for the school incident, police spotted Bynum driving a stolen dirt bike. When they tried to stop him, the teen fled. He was arrested and sent back to jail.
The 10-year probation was Bynum's punishment for both incidents, the judge said.
Bynum's mother and the girl's mother sat across from each other in the nearly empty courtroom.
Neither looked at the other. Tevecia Bynum stared straight ahead at her son, who stood with shackled wrists in a red jumpsuit.
Before dismissing the court, Tharpe asked Joshua Bynum how long he'd been in jail. The teen said 335 days.
"Make no mistake, young man," Tharpe said. "You violate your probation, I will send you to prison. You understand me?"
"Yes, sir," Bynum mumbled.
After the sentencing Monday afternoon, Bynum's mother awaited her son's release. Bynum, she said, has already lost a year of his life behind bars.
He can't go back to Hillsborough County Schools. He has missed proms and football games. Instead, he will get his high school diploma through the GED test and go to a community college, his mother said. And now, he is a felon.
"The weight and the nature of this incident, there was no happy ending," she said.
Bynum's arrest has tainted his mother as well. When she searches the Internet for her name, Bynum's arrest pops up.
Laura C. Morel can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8713.