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Ex-Avondale High teacher sentenced to two years’ probation for aggravated assault on student

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published December 11, 2019

 Aaron Donaghy

Aaron Donaghy

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TROY — Saying he exploited his student physically and emotionally, a judge sentenced a popular former Avondale High School teacher to two years’ probation after he pleaded guilty to aggravated assault against his student, then age 15. The student is now 35.

After deliberating for the equivalent of 2 1/2 days, a jury found Aaron Donaghy not guilty June 17 of two of three counts of criminal sexual conduct. The jury was unable to decide on the remaining count.

Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Cheryl Matthews declared a mistrial when the jury could not come to an agreement on the first charge.

“I believe you deserve to go to prison,” Matthews said to Donaghy at his Dec. 2 sentencing. “The course of the trial underscores why victims don’t report,” she said, noting the vast amount of evidence presented at the trial. “I have incredible respect for her,” she said of the former student.

The former student testified that she and Donaghy “were in a relationship” and had sex at his Somerset Park apartment in the 1999-2000 school year, when she was 15.

Witnesses said they saw Donaghy and the former student together in his car. Another witness said that the former student and Donaghy visited her, just the two of them, and brought her a teddy bear when she was hospitalized in December 1999.

The jury viewed Donaghy’s  1 1/2-hour interview with Auburn Hills police that was conducted after the former student reported the incidents to Avondale High School officials in December 2017.

The former student’s mother and sister, and Donaghy’s wife also testified.

“She thought this was a relationship,” Oakland County Assistant Prosecutor Heather Brown said to the jury. “She’s 15. She can’t agree to that,” she said, referring to a sexual relationship.

“It didn’t happen,” said Donaghy’s co-counsel, Mitchell Ribitwer. “She never disclosed. She had many opportunities. He’s an excellent teacher, an outstanding teacher. The kids love him. He builds orphanages in Africa. The timelines don’t make sense.”

Donaghy’s former student spoke, at times weeping, during the sentencing.

She explained that the loss of her father “caused a great fracture” in her family. “Aaron Donaghy took advantage of our vulnerability, seeing it as an opportunity to get what he wanted, convincing everyone he was only there to help. He used it for selfish gain.

“He connived his way to being wanted and needed by a grieving adolescent,” she said. “How convenient for him her father wasn’t around to protect her.”

She said that Donaghy made her feel that she needed to lie to protect him, which she said was “unforgivable. My life would never be the same. My truth is that I’m done carrying the damage this man has cost — the shame, regret, embarrassment, self-loathing — all that belongs to Aaron Donaghy.”

She noted that every relationship in her life has suffered, she feels anger at being robbed of her innocence, and she believes she is missing out “on genuine love” because of her “inability to trust men. Aaron Donaghy will stand trial again at his final judgment.”

Speaking to why she came forward to report something that happened 20 years ago, she said it was an effort to free herself from the past, and “silence was putting my community at risk. Regardless of who you believe, children are watching and following your lead.”

She thanked the detectives, prosecutors and her family for their unwavering love and support.

“The strength I feel is my freedom and finally my peace,” she said.

Steven Schwartz, Donaghy’s co-counsel, asked Matthews to consider a one-year probation for Donaghy. “He’s been flawless, impeccable, on bond. I have never met anyone as charitable, giving and popular as Aaron Donaghy. … Aaron is contrite about what happened.”

Schwartz noted that Donaghy had gone to Haiti to build houses, “doing things that are extraordinary. Let him return to Texas. He does not need anger management. There is nothing to suggest he is a violent person,” Schwartz said in response to the stipulation that Donaghy attend anger management classes as part of his sentencing.

 

Donaghy speaks
“I choose to speak as a teacher one more time,” Donaghy said at his sentencing.

Brown said that Donaghy’s teaching certificate has been nullified, which means he may not teach in any state.

“I want to go back to the moment … after I met with investigators. … I came to two realizations: that I need to accept responsibility and to choose every day to make things better, not worse.”

Donaghy said he hoped the two-year process had been healing for the former student and praised her sister for protecting relationships between his children and the former student’s family.

He praised his family and friends for their support. “I have not seen a greater act of courage,” he said, referring to their support of him.

“I don’t see this as an end, but a beginning,” he said. “It is time to end this and allow everyone to move forward.”

He said his plea would “make the work I do and want to do more difficult. I accept full responsibility to my plea,” adding that he does not believe the system treated him fairly.

“Donaghy was placed on leave from the district in December 2017 when law enforcement officers began their investigation into the allegations of misconduct. Specifics regarding the leave are a personnel issue and not available to the public,” Annette McAvoy, the public relations and communications supervisor for the Avondale School District, said in an email in June.

“The priority of Avondale School District throughout these events has been to ensure the physical and emotional well-being of our students and staff,” she said in a Dec. 3 email. “We will always respond with diligence to any concerns brought to us by current or former students, staff or parents. We will also continue to work closely with parents and law enforcement to build awareness among our students and staff of the process for reporting concerns and the resources available to assist those impacted by any manner of misconduct.”

Matthews said that Donaghy may return to Texas to serve his probation. He must pay court costs, seek and maintain employment, have no contact with the former student or her family, and undergo sexual assault/mental health assessments, which Schwartz said will be challenged for appellate review.

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