STILLWATER, Okla. - A former teacher at Yale High School accused of having an inappropriate relationship with a student has been sentenced after pleading guilty to one count of engaging in sexual communication with a minor by use of technology.
Joseph Kolt Palmer, 29, was charged in 2016. According to an affidavit, he and a then 17-year-old student would "talk with each other via cellphone calls and text messaging during school hours and after school years."
Investigators were able to compile 14 pages of text messages, according to court documents.
The texts were sexual in nature, according to Palmer's attorney, Ky Corley, and a charge of second-degree rape was added after a preliminary hearing when the victim testified.
In total, Palmer was facing up to 25 years in prison for the two charges. However, he was ultimately sentenced this month to seven years with all but 180 days suspended after the second-degree rape charge was dropped.
According to District Attorney Laura Thomas, the charge would based on Palmer's position as a teacher.
"It’s rape in the second degree only by virtue of their relationship — that she was a student and he was teacher. It is not first-degree rape, force or fear," Thomas told News 4. "The law basically says, if you’re a teacher, you can’t prey on the students within your school district."
The charge was ultimately dismissed with the approval of the victim.
"She [victim] has moved on. She was in high school when this began. She’s now in college pursuing an education, and she and her family were ready for this to be over with — so they wanted us, when the defense attorney came back and said, can we go back to the original plea offer — they were on board with us doing that. They didn’t particularly want to interrupt her life again and have her testify at trial," Thomas said. "The victim just preferred not to have to go through it because they were happy with the original plea recommendation that he (Palmer) kept rejecting and decided he wanted to accept. They were happy with that, which labeled him as a sex offender 25 years."
Thomas said their office was content with the deal, because it's likely he would serve more in county jail than he would have in prison.
"In prison, they get out faster than it appears they do if they’re serving county jail time, which is one reason why we use county jail time as opposed to DOC in a lot of cases, because we can determine what amount of time they do there," Thomas said. "Literally, we’ve seen people on five-year sentences walk out of DOC in two months."
Corley told News 4 that he felt the was sentence was lenient but noted there were several mitigating factors.
"I think that the age of the parties makes a difference. I think also the strength of their [state] rape charge, if we had to go to trial, there would have been evidence that the day that said it occurred, he has an alibi," he said. "Also, the victim has to be okay with the plea. I think that’s a big thing in this case, that I feel like the victim - she was completely comfortable with the plea arrangement. I think her family was comfortable with it."
Corley also said he did not believe the sentence would set any legal precedent.
"I don’t think it sets a precedent for who have committed sexual related offenses getting lenient sentences. What I do think it represents, though, is that each case is individual. Each case has to rest and rely on its own facts," he said.
Thomas said the goal they set out to accomplish was to ensure Palmer would not be able to teach again.
"A Payne County jury is not going to put him in prison for 10 years — and I don’t know if that’s what we needed to accomplish," Thomas said. "Once he gets out of jail, if he starts not reporting in the way they want him to report — if he does not do well or do not take his polygraphs, if he refuses to register as a sex offender, he has to pay certain fines, court costs [if he does not do any of that, then we can file what’s called a motion to revoke, bring it back to the court and say he’s not in compliance and the court can sentence him up to seven years."