FINCASTLE — A former James River High School teacher will serve no jail time after he was found guilty of sending inappropriate messages to a student over social media.
Paul Zachary Wakeman, 29, pleaded guilty Tuesday in Botetourt County Circuit Court to one count of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
Circuit Judge Joel Branscom accepted the plea agreement, and sentenced Wakeman to 12 months in jail with the entire sentence suspended. Wakeman had been indicted and arrested in March on three charges, but two were dropped as part of the agreement. He will be on probation for 12 months and surrender his teaching license.
Commonwealth’s Attorney John Alexander said an 18-year-old student told the assistant principal of James River High School on Dec. 5 that Wakeman had requested photos of the student in his underwear. The teacher had also given the student a pair of boxers and asked the student to send him photos wearing them.
The student said this had been going on for two years and the student had avoided contact with Wakeman. The student said he only came forward with the allegations after Wakeman made similar requests of his little brother.
All of the messages were exchanged over Snapchat, a social media messaging app that automatically deletes photos a few seconds after they are opened.
After speaking with the student, the assistant principal alerted the principal. He called Wakeman into his office and told him about the accusations. The school did not contact the department of social services or the sheriff’s office, Alexander said.
Wakeman went home that day and returned to the school around 7 p.m. He stayed until 10 p.m. and cleaned out his classroom and left a letter apologizing to his students for his “shortcomings.”
He met with the principal again the next day and submitted his resignation. The principal asked how many students he had sent similar messages to, and Wakeman told him fewer than 10.
The sheriff’s office was notified later that day. The detective attempted to access Wakeman’s social media accounts, but they had all been deleted the day prior.
Alexander said the delay in notifying law enforcement prevented detectives from gathering all of the potential evidence. However, the younger brother of the first student took photos of messages between him and Wakeman from November.
Authorities did not find any illegal photos on any of Wakeman’s devices that were seized during the investigation. They interviewed numerous students who said they had received messages from Wakeman, but none of them reported that he had ever tried anything physical.
Alexander said both parties wanted to avoid a trial so the victims would not have to testify in court, but the victims and their families were satisfied with the plea agreement.
In court, Wakeman said, “I want to apologize to the people of James River, the students and the community I let down because of this.”