NEW BOSTON, Texas - An all-woman jury sentenced a former teacher's aide to prison and probation Thursday for sexual misconduct with three male high school students.
Ashlyn Faye Bell, 24, pleaded guilty Tuesday to two counts of improper relationship between educator and student involving two boys who were 17 in the fall of 2019 and to two counts of sexual assault of a child involving a boy who was 16 during the same time period.
A jury was tasked with deciding what punishment Bell should receive for each offense in the range of two to 20 years in prison. Defendants without a prior felony conviction are eligible for probation should the jury recommend it on a sentence of 10 years or fewer.
The jury sentenced Bell to four years in prison on one count of sexual assault. On the second count of sexual assault, the jury assessed a 10-year term but recommended probation. The jury assessed five-year sentences on each of the two counts of improper relationship and recommended probation on each.
That means Bell will go to prison to serve a four-year sentence for sexual assault of a child. She was taken into custody at the end of the proceedings Thursday. The cases with probation recommendations are set for formal sentencing next month before 202nd District Judge John Tidwell.
Tidwell ordered a presentence investigation, which will assist him in determining what special conditions of probation, such as mental health treatment, sex offender therapy and electronic monitoring, for example, are appropriate in Bell's case. Bell will be held in the Bowie County jail until the May hearing and will be transported to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to serve her four-year prison term some time afterward.
Should Bell violate the terms of probation, she can be ordered to serve up to five years in prison on each count of improper relationship between educator and student and up to 10 years in prison for sexual assault of a child.
Bell is now required to register as a sex offender.
The jury deliberated for several hours before arriving at the mixed punishment verdict.
During the trial, they heard testimony that Bell initiated contact with boys she met while working as an aide at Texas High School. Bell arranged to pick the boys up from truck stops and their homes in the middle of the night, often with her 3-year-old daughter in the back seat. She took the boys to her home in New Boston where she had sex with them.
Bell testified Wednesday that she didn't know that Texarkana Independent School District policy prohibited staff other than teachers from having sex with students. First Assistant District Attorney and Assistant District Attorney Lauren Richards confronted that assertion with documents Bell signed in new employee orientation that addressed sexual harassment of staff and students and with Bell's score of 90% on a test over the training.
Bell also claimed she believed the boys were 18. Crisp pointed out in her closing remarks Thursday that the victims "look like kids," were not driving and were sneaking out of their homes at night to meet Bell. Victims testified that Bell mentioned she could get in trouble, indicating she was well aware that what she was doing was against the law.
Bell testified that all three victims lied when they testified that she pursued them on social media.
"All you saw in here was a liar when the truth would have been better," Crisp argued. "I've heard about all the victim blaming I want to hear."
Richards reminded the jury of testimony from one of the victim's mothers who said Bell's actions have caused her to see her older son differently and worry about what could happen to her younger children through school. Richards also pointed out that Bell's misconduct was not a "one time thing."
During the defense's closing arguments, Texarkana lawyer Bruce Condit described the boys as "victors" rather than victims. Condit argued that Bell is a good candidate for probation and asked the jury for mercy.
Condit noted Bell's family support and asked the jury not to leave Bell's two young children without a mother.
Bell had been free on bonds totaling $150,000. She was arrested June 24 and released the same day. It will be about two years before Texas parole officials may consider Bell for release.