Teacher Facing Statutory Rape Charges Avoids Trial by Marrying Victim

Leah Gayle Shipman, 42, was charged with statutory rape and faced a trial but avoided the courtroom by marrying her 17-year-old victim. The marriage prevented her husband, the victim, from testifying at the trial.

Shipman was arrested in 2009 on charges of having an inappropriate relationship with a student. Two years later she divorced her husband of 19 years and, only six days later, married her student, Johnnie Ray Ison. Because he was only 17, Ison had to have his mother sign the paperwork for him to get married, StarNewsOnline reported.

Ison had already told police about his relationship with Shipman two years prior, but Assistant District Attorney Gina Essey said his claims were made "inadmissible" if he didn't testify. The marriage prevented that from happening, and the state's case was lessened against Shipman, CBS noted.

North Carolina law prevents spouses from being forced to testify against the defendants in criminal cases.

"The defendant [Ison] has a Sixth Amendment right to confront witnesses against them," Essey told StarNews. "Statements made to police officers are inadmissible hearsay except in certain circumstances. None of the statements made in this case would be admissible without the victim. The state pled (her) to what we could prove without the victim."

Shipman was offered a plea deal, which was a charge of resisting a public officer, a misdemeanor. She no longer faces a trial in the case with Ison, given their marriage, but is now on probation and had to surrender her teaching license.

It's an usual ending to the story, and the public has a lot of strong opinions about the matter, both supportive and unsupportive of the new couple.

"I am appalled, as a NC teacher, that she has pretty much gotten away with this," noted StarNews reader Kim Crane Godwin. "She has been manipulating this boy since he was fifteen years old, and nothing good can come out of that."

"I wish them many happy years together since they are married (his mum agreed) and she's not his teacher. There's nothing wrong with it," countered Alexi Trevor Malmgren.