CARIBOU, Maine — In an unprecedented case, Colby Conroy, 24, of Woodland was found guilty on four of seven charges related to sexual misconduct with a 15-year-old female student while he was working as a substitute teacher at the Caribou Regional Technology Center.
Caribou police arrested Conroy on May 26 last year and he waived his right to a jury trial. That led to a trial on Aug. 29 in front of Aroostook County Superior Court Justice Harold Stewart. Stewart chose not to rule immediately and, on Sept. 19, decided that Conroy was guilty of gross sexual assault, unlawful sexual touching, unlawful sexual contact, and sexual abuse of a minor.
District Attorney John Pluto chose to dismiss three other charges during the Aug. 29 trial: one count of gross sexual assault, and two of unlawful sexual contact.
One count of sexual assault was dismissed because it focused more on compulsion and force than the second count, which emphasized an exploitation of authority. Two unlawful sexual contact charges were dismissed because of their overlap with a third count.
“We already had an unlawful contact charge in count four,” said Pluto. “Count four specifically criminalizes contact between a teacher or school employee and a student, so it’s not so much about whether or not there was consent, it focuses on the status [of Conroy as a school employee].”
Pluto said his prosecution of the charges for which Conroy was convicted focused on the defendant’s status as a school employee and his exploitation of that status of authority over the victim, and on the defendant being at least five years older than his 15-year-old victim.
What makes this case unprecedented, according to Pluto, is that it involves a substitute, as opposed to full-time, teacher.
One factor in the case, was that Conroy worked as a substitute teacher in the defendant’s class on a Monday and the “sex act took place two days later on a Wednesday.” The defendant did not teach on Tuesday or Wednesday.
Pluto said he could not find any other court rulings involving a substitute teacher and a student.
The district attorney added that, even after looking outside the state, he still was not able to find a case that “exactly fits the patterns” of this case.
He said the primary legal argument being made is that, regardless of whether or not someone is a substitute teacher or full-time, schools should be a “safe place for vulnerable young people.”
“Our argument is that anybody who works for a school is somebody that can be trusted not to exploit their relationship with a student,” he said. “Even if something happens after hours and off the school premises, we still look at that as an exploitation of that relationship.”
As of Sept. 27, a date had not been set for sentencing.
“The stakes are fairly high in this case,” said Pluto. “For gross sexual assault, a class C crime, the range is from no time to five years incarceration. There is also an automatic requirement, as a result of the conviction, to register as a sex offender.”
Conroy’s defense attorney, Matthew Hunter, declined to comment on the case.