Last summer, we discussed the case of a former Commerce High School teacher and coach who was accused of having sex with a 17-year old student. Thomas Allen Fenderson was charged in Ottawa County District Court with three counts of second degree rape after both he and the teen admitted to a sexual relationship. Now, the 44-year-old Fenderson has pleaded guilty to all three counts against him.
The defendant entered the plea without the benefit of a plea agreement, and the Ottawa County District Attorney's Office is requesting a sentence of 15 years in prison--the maximum sentence according to Oklahoma's statutory rape laws. He is scheduled for sentencing July 24.
Obviously, we are not privy to all the details of the case, but a maximum sentence for the former teacher's admitted offense seems to be too harsh to be an adequate measure of justice.
Reports say Fenderson was a science teacher, boys' basketball coach, assistant football coach, and middle school track coach for Commerce Public Schools when he was accused last year of having sex with the student. A school administrator notified law enforcement when he became aware of allegations of a sexual relationship between the teacher and a student.
Friends of the girl said that she told them about her relationship with the teacher. When police questioned her, she said that she had a "crush" on the coach since 6th grade--approximately five years before the two began exchanging Snapchat images and text messages in January 2014. By late March, she said, the two had sex in a local motel room. She said they had sex on two other occasions between March 28 and the beginning of the investigation in mid-May.
Fenderson then admitted the relationship and resigned his position with the Commerce school district.
Now, as we have discussed before, the age of consent in Oklahoma is 16. This means that a person aged 16 or older, in most cases, has the legal capacity to consent to sex with an adult aged 18 or older. However, under the second degree rape statute, commonly known as the statutory rape law, students are denied the legal capacity to consent to sex with an employee aged 18 or older who works for the same school district the student attends. This prohibition between student-teacher sex applies until the student is at least 20 years old. It does not matter if the student is willing to engage in a sexual relationship with the teacher; it does not matter if the student is not coerced or manipulated into a relationship; it does not matter if the student actively pursues the relationship with the teacher; it does not matter if the student is the aggressor in developing a relationship. Oklahoma law prohibits sex between a student under the age of 20 and a school system employee over the age of 18.
The punishment for second degree rape ranges from one to 15 years in prison. Most challenging for many convicted of statutory rape is the requirement to register as a sex offender. Second degree rape is classified as a Tier III sex offense, alongside crimes such as child molestation and forcible rape. As such, it requires lifetime sex offender registration.