COVINGTON, Ky. – A former Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader pleaded guilty Monday to having sex with her 17-year-old former student while she was a teacher at a northern Kentucky high school, a move that will allow her to avoid jail time.
In a tearful admission in Kenton County Circuit Court in Covington, Ky., 27-year-old Sarah Jones pleaded guilty to sexual misconduct and custodial interference in place of more serious charges as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors.
"I began a romantic relationship while he was a student and I was in a position of authority," Jones said, her voice cracking as her family members wiped their own tears.
Jones said the relationship began in February 2011 when the boy was 17, saying that the two had sex, that she sent him sexually explicit text messages and lied about the relationship to police.
The teen had been in Jones' freshman English class in 2008, and she was his peer tutor in 2010 and 2011 before he graduated at the age of 17 this year, according to Monday's plea agreement, signed by Jones.
In accepting the plea agreement, Judge Patricia Summe granted prosecutors' recommendation to sentence Jones to five years of diversion but no jail time, and she won't have to register as a sex offender. The diversion requires Jones to report to a probation officer and undergo drug tests.
Prosecutors said they were willing to make the deal because the teen, now 18, and his family were uncooperative with them and on Jones' side.
"We feel that it is a just and it is a fair result," prosecutor Sara Farmer said. "It's certainly difficult when a victim and his family don't cooperate by not providing information, but it makes our case a lot harder when they're actually proactive for a defendant, and in this case, the family was more than supportive of the Jones (family). They were proactive for them."
Jones had taught at Dixie Heights High School before resigning last November. She was indicted in March, and her trial had been set to start Wednesday.
Part of the reason defense attorney Eric Deters said Jones was willing to plead guilty was because Summe had denied his request to keep the text messages that she sent to the teen out of the trial.
"They're embarrassing," Deters told reporters after the hearing. "They were steamy."
He also said that now that the teen is 18 years old, he and Jones "are free to be together" and pointed out that they left the courtroom together.
Deters declined to discuss details of their current relationship, saying that the pair would discuss it on the "Today" show and "Dateline" on Friday.
He said that Jones will not try out to be a Bengals cheerleader in the future, and that for now, she's working as a legal assistant in his office.
Jones has expressed interest in becoming a lawyer and is studying to take the Law School Admission Test, he said.
Before any accusations involving the student surfaced, Jones drew public attention when she sued a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based gossip website over a posting dated Dec. 7, 2009, that included her photo and was headlined "The Dirty Bengals Cheerleader." The posting claimed that Jones' ex-boyfriend cheated on her with more than 50 women, contracted chlamydia and gonorrhea, and likely gave it to her.
Another post on the site, Thedirty.com, accused Jones of having sex in the classroom and said, "Why are all high school teachers freaks in the sack?"
Jones resigned as a teacher at Dixie Heights and from the Bengals cheer squad in late 2011 after four years with both jobs. Deters said at the time that she had done nothing wrong and stepped down because a rumor that she had become involved with a student became too much.
The lawsuit, which accuses the website and its creator of defamation and invasion of privacy and seeks $11 million in damages, was on hold until the criminal case was resolved.
Deters now is asking for a January trial date in the matter.
Jones' mother, former school principal Cheryl Armstrong Jones, also pleaded guilty Monday, to a misdemeanor charge of attempted tampering with evidence. She admitted to the judge that she sent the teen a text message telling him to get rid of his phone and also avoided jail time.