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'I am no longer your puppet,' victim tells ex-seminary teacher Michael Pratt

Judge sends him to prison for five years to life

AMERICAN FORK — The double life is over.

On one side, Michael J. Pratt preached about morality, counseled students to draw closer to God and talked often about visiting the LDS temple.

The former seminary teacher and principal was loved and praised as a pillar of righteousness, yet, amid the applause, he was also ferociously pursuing a 16-year-old student, texting her morning and night, and slipping her off into the shadows to act out sexual fantasies.

"I came to you in one of the weakest moments of my life ... as a man of God to point me in the direction ... of light, truth and righteousness," the now-18-year-old girl testified Monday during Pratt's sentencing in 4th District Court. "What you did is lead me down a (road of) sorrow and destruction."

"You mixed my dreams with nightmares, reality with fantasy and teachings of God with actions of the devil," she continued in a firm voice. "I put my trust in man, not God, and you encouraged me to do so. You've broken rules, promises, laws, covenants and the hearts of the innocent."

Pratt was sentenced to a five-years-to-life prison term for three first-degree felony charges, two object rape and one forcible sodomy, as well as a term of one-to-15-years for forcible sex abuse, a second-degree felony. The sentences will be served concurrently.

Based on Pratt's lack of criminal history and strong family and community ties, he will likely serve close to six years before being released, said his attorney Stephen McCaughey.

Pratt was taken into custody immediately after the hearing, leaving his wife alone to care for their four young children — the youngest just 2 months old. They, too, are victims in this case; they did nothing to deserve the embarrassment heaped upon them, said prosecutor Julia Thomas.

Thomas acknowledged it would be difficult without a father at home, but said such hardship exists for any defendant's family. She asked for prison time, adding it was Pratt's beloved qualities that put him in the position to commit his crime.

"He used and twisted (the victim's) religion ... to validate what he was doing and make her feel that this relationship was OK, not only in the eyes of society but in the eyes of God," she said. "He twisted her hopes, dreams, her expectations ... all to suit his own desires."

Thomas said she still believes Pratt is rationalizing his behavior and failing to take full responsibility, which he denied.

"I'd like to make it clear that I don't pretend to be a hero," he said, gripping the podium with both hands. "I don't pretend to be innocent, I don't pretend to be a great man or the one who saves all these kids. I did hurt (the victim). I acknowledged that I did wrong when I pled guilty. I am sorry. I take full ownership of my responsibility. I'm the one who made the bad choices, and I want everyone here to know it."

The interaction between Pratt and the student began in January 2009, when she went to him as a teenager who wanted to make positive changes in her life. Within weeks, the girl's attitude improved, and her parents thought Pratt's counseling may have been the answer to their tearful prayers.

Yet, "amazing Brother Pratt" soon began crossing lines and Church Education System rules, said the girl's father, and his grooming included frequent texting, discussions at school with the door closed and a "special" seminary class that consisted of only the girl and Pratt.

The sexual relationship began in May 2009 when Pratt repeatedly checked the girl out of class without her parents' knowledge or permission and took her to Bridal Veil Falls, an abandoned mine shaft and an empty house in the girl's neighborhood to fulfill his sexual fantasies, her parents said.

"She was looking for a friend, a confidante," the girl's aunt said. "She did those sexual things with you because she so badly needed those other things: love, validation, attention. She was in it for the companionship. You were in it for the sex. She was emotionally empty, and you were sexually charged."

But Monday, the girl told Pratt she is no longer the naive 16-year-old relying on his "sweet lies and empty promises" or waiting for an apology.

"You are no longer a part of my choices and decisions, and you can no longer hold me back," she said. "I am no longer blinded by your craftiness; my eyes are wide open.

"I am no longer your puppet, your toy, your game."

She asked for no specific sentence, only that the judge carefully weigh justice and mercy.

Friends have deserted her, she said. Bloggers and comment-posters call her a prostitute and a whore. No one asked her to her longed-for senior prom, and there are experiences she may never be able to forget.

"(Yet) she is emerging a beautiful young lady with goals and aspirations," said her father. "Michael Pratt may have controlled her for that brief period in 2009 and manipulated her, but he does not and will not control her now."