Former Franklin Regional teacher pleads guilty to having sex with student
A former Franklin Regional teacher has pleaded guilty after admitting to having a sexual relationship with a female student.
Bret Anthony Thompson, 42, of Penn Hills, pleaded guilty last week to 45 sex-related charges stemming from a 13-month sexual relationship with a Franklin Regional student. Thompson resigned from the district in July, after Murrysville police began investigating the relationship.
Thompson, a former gym and health teacher who also coached several sports, expressed remorse after entering his plea in the Westmoreland County Court of Common Pleas.
“I admit I had an inappropriate relationship that did turn sexual,” Thompson said.
“I'm very sorry about it. I want to provide for my family. I've lost everything that I had — my faith, my immediate family, my church and my job.”
The Murrysville Star does not publish the names of victims of sex crimes.
Police accused Thompson of engaging in sexual intercourse and oral sex with the teen — who prosecutors say was 16 when the relationship turned sexual — at least eight times on the Franklin Regional campus. Police say the pair had additional encounters in Allegheny, Cumberland and Westmoreland counties, including at Boyce Park in Monroeville, Duff Park in Murrysville and other locations in Murrysville.
Assistant District Attorney Christiann Flanigan said Thompson taught the teen to lie to her family and isolated her from friends.
“He played with her mind, even more than her body,” Flanigan said. “This is an innocent kid who was at his mercy, physically and mentally.”
Flanigan said Thompson was a coach who the teen looked up to and that he manipulated her into competing to be his favorite of a list of students.
“He challenged her to be the one he liked best,” Flanigan said. “He destroyed a part of her and her relationship with her family. He did everything he could to bring her into his control.”
Thompson's guilty plea might keep him out of jail, according to his attorney, Michael Alberty. A previous offer — which Thompson rejected — would have sent him to jail for three to 10 years; under the plea, Thompson could receive probation.
“If you add it up, he could go to jail for a lot of years,” Alberty said. “He's been no trouble and has a meaningful job providing benefits and for his child. He doesn't pose a danger to society.”
However, Flanigan said her office plans to seek the most severe punishment.
Each of the 45 felony charges to which Thompson pleaded guilty carries a maximum of at least seven years, which Judge John E. Blahovec could sentence Thompson to concurrently or consecutively.
Flanigan accused Thompson of “grooming” the teen since she was 15.
“He put on a façade to everyone at the school that he was a great, friendly, easy-going and likeable guy,” Flanigan said. “Meanwhile, he was manipulating a teenage girl.”
Alberty said he doesn't think Thompson deserves prison time. He cited Thompson's clean record and job — but declined to say in what field.
“We're hoping that he can be allowed to work and have contact with his child and be given the same chance as other high-profile cases,” Alberty said.
“This is a highly educated man with no prior criminal record.”
Thompson pleaded guilty to 18 counts of unlawful contact or communication with a minor; 15 counts of criminal use of a communication device, eight counts of institutional sexual assault, two counts of sexual abuse of a child, one count of abuse of a minor and one count of endangering the welfare of children.
Thompson is free on $5,000 unsecured bail. He surrendered his teaching certificate in October and is unable to teach in Pennsylvania.
Daveen Rae Kurutz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8627, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Staff writer Rich Cholodofsky contributed to this report.