Legacy teacher sentenced to 16 years
For at least four years, Leann Wallace was living a double life. The side she presented to her friends and family wasn’t unlike that of many Southeast Texans: church on Sunday, a fulfilling career as a music and choir teacher at Legacy Chris- tian Academy, where she was admired and respected, a loving family and pious lifestyle. But eventually, her sins would catch up to her and an entire community would be shocked by her admission that she had molested one of the most vulnerable among them. Leann Wallace, a music teacher of more than 10 years at Legacy, a private school in Beaumont, was indicted by a grand jury March 28 and pleaded guilty to sexual assault of a child and improper student/teacher rela- tionship in Judge John Stevens’ Criminal District Court Monday, July 15. Wallace was originally charged with con- tinuous sexual assault of a child for what prosecutors say was a sexual relationship with a female student in Wallace’s choir, but that charge was dropped under her plea agreement. As Wallace’s sentencing proceedings began Monday, Sept. 9, Judge Stevens laid out the facts of the case to those in the courtroom. “The defendant had a position of trust as a teacher and even a counselor at the school, to not only the victim, but to other students at school. And this illicit relationship began when the defendant approached the victim and began ... with hugging, to kissing, to fondling of the body parts to penetration and oral sex,” Stevens said. “This occurred not only at homes, but at the school. And occurred at the school when the door was locked so that people would not walk in and disturb.” Wallace was looked up to and was in a position of authority and trust at the Legacy school, Stevens said. The victim was a close family friend of the Wallace’s and is now for- ever altered by her ordeal. “She has severe, serious, emotional, physi- cal and mental scars. And why wouldn’t she? It wasn’t her fault,” Stevens said. “Her whole high school is ruined. A bell has been rung that cannot be unrung. This child has to deal with this her whole life and the scars from a person she trusted. A person who involved herself in her family and her best friend’s mom. What was the child supposed to do?” At least six family members and friends took the stand to beg for Wallace to remain out of prison, saying Wallace’s good deeds should not be overlooked due to her infidelity andmolestation. “My mom is not a predator by any means,” said Song Thompson, Wallace’s eldest daughter of 24. “This was ... truly a big mistake.” Thompson said her mother was a model citizen, on a regular basis taking Legacy’s choir to nursing homes where she played piano, and carol-ing throughout Beaumont during the holidays. “She’s poured her life into the community,” Thompson said. Wallace’s second daugh- ter, 21-year-old Moriah Wal- lace, also took the stand, say-ing she needs her mother in her life despite her crime. “I need her to be there with me when I get married,” she said. “I want her in the deliv-ery room when I have my first child, and I want to be able to call her ... and get her advice. I need her for those things. I need her.” Other family friends such as Cindy Gonzalez said she had never met another person as devout as Wallace. “I grew up in church. I’d always been around a lot of church people,” she said. “But I’d never really been around someone who walked the walk.” But after almost three hours of testimony from those closest to Wallace, it was Wallace’s husband, Mark Wallace, who elicited a reac- tion in Monday’s courtroom. “I believe myself, as head of my house, and the man of the house of the other family, are somewhat at fault here,” Mark said. “How so?” Stevens inter- rupted. “Your honor, the other family as well as my family allowed this relationship to go way too far,” Mark said. “Way too far.” Stevens wasn’t in agree- ment. “In all fairness, sir, every adult is held accountable for their own degrees of self restraint and their own choic-es,” Stevens said. Saying Wallace was living a “Jekel and Hyde lifestyle,” Stevens continued to address Mark Wallace as he stood on the stand. “We don’t harm children. We certainly don’t put our- selves in positions of trust and take advantage of that trust. And this court can appreciate and understand isolated mis-takes, short term mistakes,” Stevens said. “People falter and fall, but let’s all admit ... four years is a way of life. Every act of abuse was a crime, and we’re talking about hundreds.” After hours of testimony, Leann Wallace took to the stand to plead for forgiveness, saying what started as genuine concern for the girl and her home life eventually evolved into a sinful, sexual relation-ship with the girl that started when she was 13 years old. “I wanted so hard just to be there for this student and encourage her. And I know for a fact because she told me ... she admitted that she had always wanted the affection of an adult female because she struggled with that at home,” Wallace said. “That’s part of why I fell into this. I’m not saying that student is completely or even remotely responsible. I should have stayed the course. I should have stood my ground. I should have been the respon- sible adult and I wasn’t, and for that I’m sincerely sorry.” Moments later, Stevens sentenced Wallace to 16 years in prison for her molestation of the now college-aged vic- tim, at which time the court- room erupted into an emo- tional display from Wallace’s family. Before she was led out of the courtroom, Wallace apolo- gized to the Legacy students and teachers, many of whom stood for hours inside Ste-vens’ courtroom to hear the proceedings. “All of you, I’m the kind of person that gives Chris-tians a bad name, and I’m sorry,” Wallace said.