Hancock County

Would she serve less time if the student she molested were male?

Leslie Dewitt listens to closing arguments during her sexual battery trial in Bay St. Louis on Oct. 17, 2016. Dewitt was sentenced to 30 years in prison for molesting a former student she’d coached at Hancock High School. She recently lost her appeal.
Leslie Dewitt listens to closing arguments during her sexual battery trial in Bay St. Louis on Oct. 17, 2016. Dewitt was sentenced to 30 years in prison for molesting a former student she’d coached at Hancock High School. She recently lost her appeal. Sun Herald file

Leslie Danielle DeWitt on Monday filed an appeal of her conviction and reconsideration her prison sentence handed down last week in Hancock County Circuit Court, and in the motion to reconsider, her attorney said the former Hancock High teacher and coach was treated unfairly because the student she’s convicted of molesting was female.

DeWitt wants reconsideration of her 30-year sentence, a sentence she and her attorney believe would not be as harsh if the victim was a male.

DeWitt, 34, was convicted last week of two counts of touching a child for lustful purposes. She was acquitted of two charges of sexual battery. During the trial, she told the jury claims that she sexually abused a 16-year-old student were “100 percent false.”

Judge Larry Bourgeois sentenced her to 30 years in prison. In Mississippi, people convicted of sex offenses are not eligible for parole.

According to state law, a defendant must ask the sentencing court for a new trial before to the court term ends.

In DeWitt’s case, the current court term ends Oct. 31.

Touching a child for lustful purposes carries a sentence of 2 to 15 years. Bourgeois sentenced her to the maximum of 15 years for each count, and ordered the time be served consecutively.

In her motion for a new trial, DeWitt’s attorney Jim Davis argued Bourgeois erred when he declined to declare a mistrial when it was discovered one of the jurors may not have been qualified to serve on the panel.

Davis said the juror is not a registered voter and had not lived in Hancock County for more than a year. The juror is a landowner in Hancock County and he disclosed his residency during jury selection, officials said.

Davis did not ask for a mistrial until just minutes before the jury returned its verdict.

Davis also claims Bourgeois erred because he refused defense jury instructions, did not grant defense motions and issued an excessive sentence.

In the motion to reconsider the sentence, Davis suggests DeWitt was treated unfairly because of her sexual orientation.

Davis cites similar cases in which sentences were much lighter. A female teacher from Biloxi was sentenced to only one year for having sex with a male student.

“The defendant cannot comprehend a female defendant having sex with an underage male warrants a one-year sentence,” the motion said. “Sentencing courts clearly cannot sentence a defendant harsher because of their sexual orientation.”

Finally, Davis requested DeWitt be allowed to post bond during her appeal. He said she is not a flight risk. He said, among other things, she has substantial family ties to the community, had never before been convicted of a crime, had always maintained employment and has good character.

DeWitt, a Hancock County native, graduated from Hancock High School and later coached there as a girls basketball assistant.

No hearing date has been set for the three motions filed this week.

If Bourgeois upholds the case and his original rulings, DeWitt will be allowed an appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Sun Herald reporter Wesley Muller and photojournalist Tim Isbell contributed to this report.

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