OMAHA, Neb. - Kelsey Peterson's maturity level wasn't much higher than the sixth-grade students she taught. The 26-year-old teacher who started having sex with a former student when he was 12 wasn't a sexual predator, but she will have to register as a sex offender when she gets out of prison.
That's the verdict of a federal judge, who on Monday sentenced Peterson to six years behind bars for fleeing to Mexico with the boy when he was 13.
U.S. District Judge Laurie Smith Camp said Peterson's maturity level "seems to be on the level of a junior high school student," and the boy's attorney agreed.
"Twenty-year-olds are not attracted to 12-year-olds - that's just not normal," attorney Amy Peck said. "She viewed herself as younger than she really was and didn't see it as inappropriate."
Peterson told the judge that she took responsibility for what she did, and said she wanted to move on with her life and make it better.
"I am not a sexual predator. That's not who I am," Peterson said.
But the victim, now 14 and starting 8th grade at another school, "is a changed kid," his attorney said.
"He is much quieter now," Peck said. "He's been through a lot."
Peterson was the boy's sixth-grade math teacher at Lexington Middle School during the 2005-06 school year, then started having sex with him in November 2006, according to court documents.
The pair disappeared in October, soon after the district's superintendent confronted Peterson about allegations of an inappropriate relationship with the boy.
She was arrested a week later in Mexicali, Mexico, after the boy made a cell phone call to his mother.
Peterson's lawyer, James Martin Davis, acknowledged that Peterson probably won't ever be able to teach in schools again. She's not off the hook on state charges, either.
In four years, she could be released from federal prison. She's being credited nearly a year for time she's already served., and could get another year off for good behavior.
In the meantime, her attorney said, she's a gifted teacher and hopes to use those skills at a women's prison in Pekin, Illinois.