BROOKSVILLE — Rejecting pleas of mercy from former students, a judge sentenced a former Hernando County teacher Thursday to more than nine years in prison for having sex with a 17-year-old girl.
Timothy Brightbill, 43, a former band director at Nature Coast Technical High School, pleaded guilty last month and left punishment to the judge.
"I crossed the line of ethics and the law by falling in love," he told the court, turning to the parents of the girl sitting in the courtroom. "I would never have harmed her, or let harm come to her, and I always respected her wishes. However, I accept responsibility for not stopping the relationship prior to it crossing that line."
Brightbill's attorney, James Campbell, argued for a sentence below state guidelines, saying the sex acts were mutual and victim, now 18, did not want to see her former teacher go to prison. In statements made to deputies, the student said she was "in love" with Brightbill.
But Circuit Judge Jack Springstead, echoing the arguments of the prosecutor, emphasized that Brightbill held a position of authority.
"The way this relationship arose violated a number of specific trusts bestowed upon Mr. Brightbill," he said. In particular, "he violated the trust of society in general."
Brightbill, a husband and father of one, faced a maximum 30 years in prison on two counts of sexual battery. Springstead gave him nine years and 1 1/2 months, the minimum punishment allowed under state sentencing guidelines, which the judge typically follows.
As deputies took Brightbill into custody, he reached for his wife's hand and kissed it. She sobbed loudly. His former students looked shocked.
Authorities arrested Brightbill on Dec. 31 after the girl's mother came home to find him on top of her daughter, both in underwear. The girl initially downplayed the relationship but Brightbill confessed to engaging in sexual acts on at least two occasions.
The defense attorney said Brightbill's cooperation and the mutual nature of the relationship call for a lesser sentence. He also provided a psychological evaluation suggesting Brightbill had a low risk of recidivism.
Assistant State Attorney Brian Trehy countered, saying he had "set out on a seduction process" that began a year earlier.
He reminded the court that months before the arrest, the girl's parents confronted Brightbill when they found he sent her flirtatious text messages.
"The laws were designed to protect children from (bad) decisions and those who would take advantage of those decisions," Trehy said.
Brightbill resigned after his arrest. Records indicated that school officials missed at least one red flag two years earlier when he was reprimanded by his principal for posting inappropriate photos on his MySpace page.
Brightbill was the second male teacher at Nature Coast Technical High School to get into trouble last school year for inappropriate relationships with female students.
Jamie Joyner, the school's head football coach, resigned after an investigation began into his relationship with a 17-year-old girl. No charges were filed.
John Frank can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 754-6114.