WEST ORANGE, NJ - Former West Orange High School English Teacher Erica DePalo, 33, of Montclair, this morning plead guilty to Third Degree Endangering the Welfare of a Child in an Essex County courtroom. DePalo admitted to having intercourse last year with her 15 year old male student. The information was received from Acting Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn A. Murray's office early this afternoon.
As part of a plea deal, she will receive life parole supervision, undergo a psychological evaluation at the Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center in Avenel, forfeit her teaching license and never be able to seek public employment. DePalo also must register as a sex offender under Megan's Law and cannot have contact with the victim. Her sentencing is scheduled for April 29 before the Honorable Peter V. Ryan. The defendant is expected to be given a 3-year suspended sentence with lifelong parole supervision. After fifteen years, she cay apply for relief from parole supervision.
Initially charged with aggravated sexual assault and a second count of sexual assault (the student was 15 and could not consent). Those charges were dropped as part of the agreement. If DePalo had been convicted on those counts, she could have received a ten year sentence.
According to a news report on Nj.com, this morning "DePalo appeared in court dressed in a gray pencil skirt and suit jacket, her brown hair pulled tightly back in a bun. She told Judge Peter Ryan that on June 27, 2012 a 15-year-old boy who was also her student came to her Montclair apartment after school and the two had sexual intercourse. As she left the courtroom with her attorney, Anthony Alfano, DePalo declined to comment and wiped tears from her eyes."
The victim visited DePalo at her apartment during that time and the two had sexual relations on more than one occasion. He had been a student in one of her English classes.
Assistant Prosecutor Tony Gutierrez said he spoke with the boy's father, who said the family was happy with the deal. Gutierrez noted that text messages were found between the two which "made it clear they were in something of a relationship." Prosecutors said the relationship was the only one DePalo had with a minor and that it lasted from June 15 until Aug. 28. “This is a just resolution of the case because it frees the victim from having to testify in open court,” said Gutierrez. “The victim’s family is also relieved that their son can now move forward.”
"It's fair to say everybody wanted to get this over and done with," Gutierrez said, saying that the plea came before the grand jury trial.
Interim School Superintendent James O'Neill posted a statement regarding the plea deal this afternoon on the West Orange School District website:
STATEMENT REGARDING ERICA DEPALO; PLEA BARGAIN AND PENALTY
It is my personal belief that the citizens of West Orange, the parents and most importantly the students in the West Orange schools have been poorly served by the justice system in Essex County. In my long professional career I could not imagine that a teacher who admitted to engaging in sexual relations with an underage student would not face any jail time. A nearby county just recommended 7 years for a teacher under similar circumstances.
While the state is fixated on test results and revamping the evaluation system we are faced with a decision that sends, at best, a disconcerting message about the tolerance the state has for such inappropriate behavior. It is my belief that this verdict demonstrates little regard for tens of thousands of educational professionals who take their responsibility to be role models seriously. I am disappointed and dismayed that such a serious breach of every ethical standard was treated so lightly by our judicial system.
Jim O’Neill, Interim Superintendent
West Orange School District
West Orange, NJ
* Note: This article was updated with the Superintendent's Message at 5:57 pm.