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Ex-Bountiful teacher Valynne Bowers faces April trial on sex charges

Former Bountiful Junior High math teacher Valynne Bowers, 40, enters courtroom Thursday.
Former Bountiful Junior High math teacher Valynne Bowers, 40, enters courtroom Thursday.
Djamila Grossman, Djamila Grossman

FARMINGTON — A jury trial has been set for a former Bountiful Junior High School math teacher charged with engaging in sexual activity with a 14-year-old male student.

Valynne Bowers, 40, is charged with five counts of rape and three counts of forcible sodomy, all first-degree felonies. If convicted, she faces a potential sentence of life in prison.

The trial is set for April 20-23.

Defense attorney Rich Gallegos on Thursday told 2nd District Judge John Morris that he and prosecutor Rick Westmoreland had been working hard on plea negotiations for months but could not reach a resolution. Gallegos said he plans to file a motion regarding a DVD with a recorded interview that is connected to a statement written by Bowers.

The judge said he would handle any motions but announced that the trial will go forward as scheduled.

Westmoreland said he wanted the court record to show the plea offers that Bowers had declined to accept.

One offer was for two charges of attempted aggravated sexual abuse of a child, both first-degree felonies that could carry potential prison terms of three years to life behind bars. Prosecutors said they would recommend probation to the judge. However, Utah judges are not bound by recommendations from any party at sentencing.

The other offer was to plead guilty to two counts of sexual abuse of a child, both second-degree felonies, which could carry potential prison terms of one to 15 years.

Westmoreland said he wanted Bowers to officially acknowledge that she was declining the plea offers and choosing to proceed to trial, which she did.

"These offers are now off the table," Westmoreland said.

Outside the courtroom, Gallegos said both sides labored to reach some kind of agreement, but it simply could not be done. Gallegos said he and his client do not think the facts in Bowers' case fit the charges she is facing.

"We tried to find something mid-range, but we weren't able to get there," he said. "At one point, it looked like we were close to resolving it."

Gallegos said he wanted to find some charge Bowers could plead to that would be fair to Bowers and also would spare the teen from having to go through a trial.

A key sticking point in the negotiations was how much of the relationship was consensual between Bowers and the youth, he said.

Gallegos also was concerned about the first offer extended to Bowers, which called for pleading guilty to two counts of attempted aggravated sexual abuse of a child. That was similar to the offer that another Bountiful Junior High teacher, Linda Nef, agreed to regarding the same boy — and she ended up going to prison, Gallegos said.

Second District Judge Rodney Page sentenced Nef in July to three years to life behind bars.

Westmoreland said prosecutors are ready to go to trial, although it may be difficult for the boy.

"There are no winners here," he said.

The situation came to light in 2009 when Nef, 46, a former history teacher at the school, confessed to police that she had engaged in sexual activity with the boy when he was 13. She originally was charged with rape of a child and sodomy on a child, both first-degree felonies.

However, because the boy was 13 at the time, the original charges against Nef carried mandatory prison terms of 25 years to life.

After Nef told police of her sexual conduct with the boy, the situation with Bowers was discovered and police promptly interviewed her.

Bowers was arrested March 6 and booked into the Davis County Jail. Police have said Bowers acknowledged having a sexual relationship with the boy from Jan. 2, 2009, through Feb. 27, 2009.

e-mail: lindat@desnews.com