Former teacher pleads guilty to trying to have sex with a student

ANDY KRAVETZ

A former Manual High School teacher pleaded guilty Friday to chatting online with a student last December and attempting to entice him to have sex with her.

With that admission, Jodi Church, 27, now faces at least 10 years and possibly up to life in prison when sentenced Nov. 30. It’s highly unlikely, however, that she’ll get more than the 10-year mandatory minimum as her sentencing range will likely fall below that threshold.

Church wore the powder-blue shirt and pants of the Tazewell County Jail, where she is being housed. She initially smiled and waved at her family as if a burden had been lifted. After the hearing ended, though, she dabbed her eyes as she left.

The plea came just after her attorney, Mark Wertz, indicated his client would not proceed on an insanity defense as previously thought. A psychiatric examination recently showed the special education teacher was competent to stand trial.

Church logged onto MySpace in December and tried to persuade the Manual student to have sex with her, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Keith, who also read from parts of a chat log. From the log, it didn’t appear the boy, who was not a student of Church’s, was interested but she continued talking to him for a short time before stating they could just be friends.

Church, 5916 N. Tampico Drive, also faces charges of criminal sexual assault in Peoria County Circuit Court for allegedly having sex with another Manual student. That charge carries the possibility of a prison term of up to 15 years.

A Dec. 3 trial date for that Peoria County charge was set at a hearing Friday morning. It is possible she could face consecutive sentences if she is convicted in that case.

After the hearing in federal court, Wertz said his client’s blind plea, meaining there was no agreeement with proseuctors, showed she accepted responsibility for what she had done and wanted to resolve the matter.

Andy Kravetz can be reached at (309) 686-3283 or akravetz@pjstar.com.