A former Hewitt fourth-grade teacher was sentenced to 99 years in prison Friday in the sexual abuse of a young girl during an eight-year period.
John David Gates, 62, who cried as he was being led from 19th State District Court, is not eligible for parole on the first of five counts on which he was convicted, continuous sexual abuse of a child.
Jurors deliberated about an hour to determine Gates’ punishment, which also includes 99 years for aggravated sexual assault and 20 years in prison on each of three counts of indecency with a child by contact.
In an emotionally charged victim-impact statement after the jury returned its verdict, the young victim sobbed uncontrollably at times before telling Gates she still loves him. She was not one of Gates’ students at Hewitt Elementary.
Prosecutors Gabrielle Massey and Landon Ramsay asked jurors in summations Friday to hand down maximum sentences for Gates, saying he deserves to spend the rest of his life in prison.
“You have the power to tell this defendant, ‘We know who you are. We know what you are,’ ” Massey told the jury.
The prosecutors said Gates should be held to a higher standard because he was a teacher, entrusted with the care of young children.
“Every day when he walked into that fourth-grade class, this defendant was around young girls he was attracted to. He craves the flesh of young girls,” Massey said.
Defense attorney Michelle Tuegel argued for minimum sentences on all five counts, telling jurors that the 25-year minimum sentence with no parole on Count 1 amounts to a death sentence for Gates.
She said Gates suffers from depression, high-blood pressure and diabetes and has no prior felony convictions. She asked the jury to consider the “sum of his life,” the good things he has done, instead of narrowly focusing on what he was convicted of.
Ramsay asked the jury to make sure Gates can never be around children again.
“He’s not surprised by your verdict,” Ramsay said. “He knows what he did. Send him a message that he’s a predator. He’s a predator and he’s a teacher. He’s around children all the time.”
Tuegel said Gates will appeal his conviction.
“This was a sad situation for both sides of the family and we are, of course, disappointed with the outcome,” Tuegel said.
Teachers who worked with Gates at Hewitt Elementary testified they noticed questionable behavior with his female students, including picking them up, chasing and tickling them.
One teacher said she saw a fifth-grade girl who was not Gates’ student sitting in his lap one day after school. They were alone in the room, she said.
The teachers said he did not behave that way with boys.
In defense punishment testimony Friday, Susan Joyce, Gates’ sister, told jurors that her older brother came to live with her in Nashville, Tennessee, after he was arrested. She said he volunteered there with the Make-A-Wish Foundation and taught high school equivalency courses to homeless people at a shelter.
She said their mother was an alcoholic and their father was very strict with Gates and he suffered from depression at an early age.
During cross-examination, Massey noted that Gates was in violation of the conditions of his bond by being around the ailing children at the charity.
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