BURLEY – After months of legal hearings and community unrest, former Burley High School Vice-Principal Tara Leigh Bagley was sentenced in Fifth District Court Tuesday afternoon by District Judge Michael R. Crabtree. Her sentence of thirteen years in the state penitentiary includes four years fixed, meaning she will not be considered for parole before she has served a full four years.
It was December 14, 2012 when a concerned citizen walked into Burley High School and confronted Bagley about having a sexual relationship with a young girl. The police were notified and the investigation began. A warrant for Bagley’s arrest was issued on December 20, 2012. She was arrested in St. George, Utah while visiting her sister.
She was charged with seven counts of Sexual Battery of a Minor Child 16 or 17 years of age and the charges involved two female victims.
Bagley was extradited back to Burley on January 3, 2013. Her original bond was set at $250,000. Once she returned to Burley, her bond was reduced to $125,000. A property bond was posted and she was released. Bagley had been out of jail since her release on January 4, 2013.
On April 16th of this year, Bagley pleaded guilty to two counts of Sexual Battery of a Child 16 or 17 years of age in Fifth District Court. One count for each of the two victims.
On Tuesday, after preliminary matters were tended to, the father of one of the victims gave a victim’s impact statement to the court. “I don’t believe the nature of this crime deserves probation,” he said, “When we go somewhere people know that my daughter was manipulated by Mrs. Bagley. To have to live in a small community where everybody knows everybody; it’s to the point we don’t even want to be here. I have been here my whole life and so has my wife, and for something of this nature to make us want to move – it’s not fair,” he said.
Cassia County Prosecutor Al Barrus gave a powerful, emotional account of the case against Bagley.
“As the court is well aware, this is a tragic case. This is a case that is tragic for the victims, the victims’ families, the defendant’s family. It’s tragic to Burley High School. It’s tragic to every teacher and administrator who dedicates their lives to do what is right for the students. It is tragic for the students.”
Barrus asked, “How did this tragedy happen?”
He continued, “It happened due to intentional choices, intentional choices by the defendant. I have read the pre-sentence and psycho-sexual reports and a lot of discussion about the defendant being depressed. A lot of issues the defendant has. But there are a lot of people who are depressed and a lot of people who have issues that don’t go out and molest children. And that’s what happened here. She chose to molest these young ladies. She groomed these young ladies. She set them up and got their confidence. This case represents one of the greatest breaches of trust that I have dealt with in the many years that I have prosecuted. I can’t even imagine a more serious breach of trust. The defendant was vice-principal of Burley High School. She was there to help and protect the kids. That was her job. Rather than protect them, she chose to molest them. It didn’t happen once or twice. It happened over and over and over again. The defendant has caused irreparable harm to both of these victims.”
Bagley’s legal counsel, Rupert’s Robert Nielsen, called licensed clinical social worker Linda Steel, who has a private practice in Salt Lake City, as a mental health therapist. Steel said Bagley has been traveling to Salt Lake weekly for therapy sessions since March. Steel told the court she diagnosed Bagley with a major depressive disorder, which the defense claims was a cause for Bagley’s criminal behavior. “I don’t believe she had the ability to discern . . . . to know right from wrong,” said Steel. The therapist also said she didn’t think Bagley fit the profile of a sexual predator. “She is an unusual case,” said Steel.
The therapist also told the court that Bagley’s ‘inner voice’ disappeared when she was depressed, though she said Bagley knew she was going to burn in hell.
Prior to the sentence being handed down, the court allowed the defendant to speak. A tearful Bagley read a statement she had prepared. She stated that six months ago she was successful; a vice-principal at Burley High School and taught computer classes at CSI. She was a leader in her church, a wife and a mother of three. She then continued, “The only part that is true now is that I am still a mother. The other things I have mentioned above are gone because of the consensual, inappropriate relationships I entered into.”
Bagley offered apologies to the victims and their families. Apologies were also made to the Cassia County School Board, Burley High School, Dr. Smyer, Dr. Hondo, Mr. Powers, the faculty and staff at Burley High School, and lastly the students.
She said that she suffered from deep depression and it put her in a “dark fog”.
“I understand that I will be recognized as a sex offender, but I know that I am not a threat to society,” she said, “I don’t know that I am worthy of any mercy from the courts, but I would ask that my children are not punished by my actions any more than they already have been. I would love to be able to work and provide for them as well as being there for them emotionally.”
Judge Crabtree described the events leading up to Bagley’s sentencing as being like the storm in Oklahoma. “The overriding mental and visual picture that I have is best characterized by the Force Five Tornado that went through Oklahoma earlier this year,” said Judge Crabtree, “A tremendously powerful event and series of events occurred. Everywhere you look, there is catastrophe for all people, guilty or not guilty. Family, friends, co-workers, school districts, victims, victim’s families, you. That’s the backdrop that we have to make some sense of.”
Crabtree expressed that it’s difficult to imagine a more evasive or traumatic event suffered by a child than a sexual molestation. “There were some indications, in my mind, of manipulation by you of the victims,” he said. “I ask myself how any parent right now could feel safe or could feel that his or her child is safe at school. There has been a breach of trust.”
Crabtree spoke of a report by one of the doctors who performed a psycho-sexual evaluation who said that Bagley over-stepped her boundaries as a school administrator and that she interacted with the victims outside of the school environment. He said the relationships progressed and she had crossed the line even before any sexual behaviors had occurred.
In handing down her sentence, Judge Crabtree told Bagley, “the legislature has declared that the conduct you engaged in is as serious as any offense there is, allowing me to sentence up to life in prison.” Bagley’s sentence is 13 years in the state penitentiary with four years fixed and determinate and nine years indeterminate, for a unified sentence of 13 years. Bagley was credited for 14 days for time served. She will be required to pay court costs, and is required to provide a DNA sample and right thumb print.
Bagley will be required to register as a sex offender. “The court has the authority to impose a civil penalty in the nature of a judgment against you in the amount of $5,000 for each victim. I will impose that,” said Crabtree. The state has 30 days to file a claim on behalf of each victim for restitution.
The sentencing ended with Judge Crabtree saying, “Miss Bagley, as I indicated, this sentence is imposed. I think given the nature of the offenses and the immensity of the conduct in which you engaged, I don’t consider you to be a suitable candidate for probation, I don’t see any need to consider probation through the retained jurisdiction program. I think you can participate in sex offender treatment while incarcerated.”
His final words – “You are remanded to the custody of the department of correction at this time for service of your sentence.”