FARGO — A former West Fargo middle school teacher who pleaded guilty to having sex with a student and sharing illicit photos and videos with students was sentenced Monday, Nov. 5, to 10 years in prison.
Shannon Moser, dressed in an orange jumpsuit, wiped away tears as the courtroom in Cass County District Court filled with friends and family, including her husband, Brett. West Fargo Police and school district staff also attended Monday's hearing.
Prosecutor Tristan Van De Streek had asked for a 20-year sentence, of which Moser would have served 15 years and serve the remaining five years on probation.
“This is one of the most tragic, heartbreaking cases I’ve ever seen,” Van De Streek said.
Moser’s attorney Scott Brand had asked for a sentence of five years followed by five years of probation and registration as a sex offender. Brand said his client has realized she made a mistake and has been remorseful and cooperative with law enforcement.
The judge, Douglas Herman, sentenced Moser to 10 years in prison, followed by five years of supervised probation. Moser will also have to register as a sex offender.
Before she was sentenced, Moser stood and read a statement to the court.
“I’m vastly ashamed of my simple choices that have hurt so many people,” Moser said.
Moser apologized to her victims, her family and her church. She said at best, she is a hypocrite, at worst she doesn’t deserve to live.
“I violated their trust in me as a teacher and a trusted adult in the community,” Moser said of the victims.
Moser, 38, was charged in July with eight felony counts involving six different victims. She pleaded guilty on Aug. 27 to six of the eight charges including sexual assault, gross sexual imposition, and four counts of luring minors by computer. The remaining two charges were dismissed.
On the gross sexual imposition charge, which claimed she had sexual contact with a 14-year-old boy, Moser faced at least five years in prison, the minimum sentence, or up to life in prison, the maximum sentence for the crime.
After receiving an anonymous tip in June, West Fargo police began investigating claims that Moser was sharing nude Snapchat images with a 16-year-old student, according to court documents. The student said Moser then asked him to meet and the two met in Rendezvous Park in West Fargo and drove west of town where they had sex along a gravel road, court documents stated.
A second student, who’s now 15 years old, told police in July that Moser had shared illicit photos and videos with him over Snapchat for about a year, starting when he was 14 years old. Some of the videos showed her having sex with her husband, court documents stated.
The second boy told police he never had any physical contact with Moser, but said she had asked to meet him in person, court documents stated.
Before resigning from her post on July 12, the same day the West Fargo School District was notified of the ongoing investigation, Moser had been a science teacher at Liberty Middle School since fall 2016. An improvement plan was placed in her teaching file during the 2017-18 school year regarding her classroom conduct after staff and students reported inappropriate conduct.
On July 23, Moser, of Moorhead, turned herself into the Cass County Jail, where she has remained since.
Herman said he took a number of factors into account when determining the sentence. While Moser had no criminal history and has taken responsibility for her actions, the seriousness of the crimes and the violation of trust Moser committed called for a sentence above the mandatory minimum requirements.
Van De Streek said he found it troubling that while Moser confessed to her crimes, she sometimes showed a “psychological resistance” to her part in the crimes, and there seemed to be some “victim blaming” on her part.
Van De Streek said the direct victims and their families are not the only ones who have suffered due to the case. Moser’s family, church and the West Fargo School District were also victimized.
“It has a significant impact on many,” he said. “There has been a loss of trust in the school district.”
Brand said that not only did Moser fully cooperate with law enforcement regarding what they found in the investigation, but she even confessed to details that investigators would not have learned without her help.
Van De Streek said Moser’s cooperation factored into his sentencing recommendation.
“The full scope of it probably wouldn’t have been uncovered without her cooperation,” Van De Streek said.
He said because the case crossed state lines, Moser could have faced similar, but lesser charges in two Minnesota counties, but prosecutors agreed to allow Cass County to prosecute the case.
Brand said there are not believed to be more than the six victims in the case.
Brand said he was moved at the outpouring of support for Moser from her family and friends. Among at least 10 letters in support of Moser submitted to the court was one written by her husband, Brett, who attended the hearing and who was a pastor at River City Church.
He was placed on administrative leave once the church was notified of the ongoing investigation.
In a letter submitted to the court, Brett Moser asked the court to have leniency for his wife and “best friend,” who he said he has chosen to stand by.
“We were shocked and numb to the actions and charges of one we were so close with,” Moser wrote to Herman. “I, as her husband have decided to stay true to my marriage vows to Shannon, even though she broke those vows with me.”
Moser asked the court to allow his wife to return home and help raise their four daughters.
“The daily grief and anguish that our family is experiencing without mom is nothing I wish upon any other family.”
Brand said after Monday’s hearing that he was pleased the imposed sentence was an even split between his request and the prosecution’s.
During the sentencing hearing, Herman noted that Moser has been a model prisoner while in custody at the Cass County Jail. She has began working with other inmates as a mentor, helping them receive a GED and with math skills. Herman said Moser will likely continue good behavior at the Women’s Correctional Facility in New England, N. D., making her eligible for early parole, possibly after serving six years.
Herman said early parole release is a result of the amount of funding, or lack of, for local enforcement facilities.
“I don’t think the public always understands that,” he said.
Moser no longer holds a valid teaching license in North Dakota. Moser’s license was up for renewal on July 30 and Moser did not seek a renewal. As part of her sentencing, Moser will no longer be eligible to have a job that involves juveniles, other than her four daughters. She will also be limited to what she can view online.