By DAILY MAIL REPORTER
A 33-year-old former English teacher sentenced to parole after admitting she had sex with a 15-year-old male student, was 'heavily depressed' at the time, her attorneys said today. Erica DePalo, from Montclair, New Jersey, has been sentenced to a three-year suspended sentence, meaning she will not serve jail time but will be registered as a sex offender. The former Essex County Teacher of the Year pleaded guilty in February and agreed today to never seek public or government employment again, nor have any contact with her victim.
Erica DePalo, who taught at West Orange High School, suffered from depression, anxiety and bi-polar disorder during the affair, her attorneys said in court today, NJ.com reported. Her mental state was factored into her plea deal and her attorney Anthony Alfano said: 'She was functioning in the classroom, but she was feeling it inside. She was heavily, heavily depressed.' DePalo had previously been prescribed anti-depressants, which Alfano said should not have been given to a bi-polar sufferer.
'She thought she was too good, that she could do anything', he said. During her sentencing, the former teacher said: 'I feel nothing but remorse for my actions and deep, deep sadness for all I've lost because of them.' DePalo was initially charged last August, with aggravated sexual assault and a second count of sexual assault since the student was 15 and could not consent. Those charges were dropped as part of the plea deal. She could have faced up to 10 years in prison if convicted on all initial charges.
She told Judge Peter Ryan in February that on June 27, 2012 she had sexual intercourse with a 15-year-old boy, who was also her student, who had came to her apartment after school. Assistant Prosecutor Tony Gutierrez said in February that he had spoken with the boy's father and the family was happy with the initial plea deal. Gutierrez said text messages between the two ‘made it clear they were in something of a relationship.' Prosecutors have said the relationship was the only one DePalo had with a minor and that it lasted from June 15 until Aug. 28.
The plea came early, before the case was heard by the grand jury. ‘It's fair to say everybody wanted to get this over and done with,’ Gutierrez said. DePalo had been a teacher for nearly a decade and a career high point came when she was named Essex County's teacher of the year in 2011 for her work with freshmen and sophomores. She taught honors English, creative writing, college prep and journalism and coached junior varsity girls tennis. The single woman had been held at a northern New Jersey lock-up in lieu of $100,000 bail.
'I don’t have any children,' DePalo remarked after winning her award, 'and I always say that I don’t have any children to go home and take care of. 'But every morning and every day that I go to school I have 110 children that are very near-and-dear to my heart.'
She graduated from Villanova University - a Roman-Catholic college in Philadelphia - with an English degree, before continuing her studies at New York University's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, where she earned her master's in Liberal Studies.