Ex-teacher sentenced to jail time for molestation
Former Stewartville teacher Francis Skinness, an Austin resident, was sentenced Monday to 30 days in jail and seven years probation for sexually abusing a third-grader at Bonner Elementary in 2009.
Skinness, 65, was sentenced on one count second-degree sexual misconduct in Olmsted County District Court. He must also pay more than $1,000 in fines, including restitution.
The charge stemmed from allegations against him when he was a teacher at Bonner Elementary in 2009. Skinness pleaded not guilty to two charges in August 2010, then changed his plea to guilty to one charge in July 2011, according to a criminal complaint.
Skinness reportedly touched the 9-year-old girl inappropriately on several occasions, according to a court complaint. The complaint said he put his hand down her shirt, touched her breasts and put his lips on her ears.
According to Olmsted County police reports, several girls in Skinness’ third-grade class complained of feeling uncomfortable around him, particularly when sitting on the “hot seat” with him.
A police report said Skinness would sit on a 14-inch diameter stool — the “hot seat” — with his legs apart, and a student would sit between his legs on the stool with him.
“On the stool he always has his legs spread out really wide …. When they are sitting down he will push his body up close to them, and she can feel his private parts,” Olmsted County Sheriff’s Detective Lee Rossman wrote in a report based on information from one of the alleged victims.
District Judge Jodi Williamson read from a pre-sentence investigation report in court Monday.
“He appears to view his actions as ‘normal,’” Williamson read from the report. “This attitude and behavior can be addressed by a treatment program.”
The report said Skinness maintains his actions were not sexually motivated, although he has admitted to invading the girl’s space.
“I’m taking this opportunity to apologize to the victims, the court and my family,” Skinness said at his sentencing hearing. “I can assure you that I will never put myself in this position ever again.”
The parents of the now 11-year-old victim spoke to the court about the pain their family has experienced since the abuse was reported in 2009.
The girl’s mother said her daughter used to dread going to school and still has bad dreams about Skinness.
“This will all be over for Mr. Skinness long before it’s over for the girls and the young women he hurt,” the girl’s mother said. “This will always be a part of (my daughter) memories.”
The girl addressed the court, too, saying she is proud of everyone who persevered through the case for the last two years.
“I hope that someday he will realize what he has done,” the girl said.
As part of his conditions of probation, Skinness must register as a sex offender, abstain from alcohol, drugs and pornography, must not have access to the Internet, must not have contact with minors and must attend a sex offender treatment program.
Skinness will also serve 100 community service hours in the next 18 months.
If he violates his probation, he could be sentenced to up to 36 months in jail.