Witness after witness testified in a Washington County courtroom Thursday that a sexual encounter with a teacher transformed an energetic, outgoing high school student into a suicidal youngster who was ridiculed by classmates and shunned by those she thought were her friends.
The victim, now 16, with her mother standing nearby, told Judge John DiSalle, “I didn’t ask for this. I couldn’t escape the flashbacks. I was unable to sleep because of nightmares. I will never be the same again.”
DiSalle sentenced Jeffrey A. Hahn Jr., 24, to 4 to 8 years’ imprisonment followed by a decade of state-supervised probation.
Charleroi Area School District hired Hahn, a seventh-grade social studies teacher in Bethlehem-Center School District, to produce the junior-senior high school’s March 2012 musical, “Back to the 80s.”
Hahn, formerly of Belle Vernon, was arrested in July on a host of sex charges. In their criminal complaint, Charleroi police alleged that Hahn started sending text messages to the victim the day the production closed. Two days later, they pledged their love for each other, and two months later, he had sex with the girl in the basement of the school auditorium.
In December, Hahn pleaded guilty to felony charges of sexual assault, corrupting a minor and institutional sexual assault. In an unusual move, Hahn pleaded guilty to an additional charge, statutory sexual assault, at his sentencing.
Traci McDonald, deputy district attorney of the special victims unit, said the guilty plea to the fourth charge was added because of “additional disclosures by the minor victim.”
After telling Hahn, “You have betrayed your family,” DiSalle handed down his sentence. The judge forbade Hahn to have any contact with the victim or minors.
Hahn’s attorney, former Washington County District Attorney Steven Toprani, in a document filed with the court, said the maximum sentence on the three counts could have been up to 51 years in prison.
The Pennsylvania Sexual Offender Assessment Board determined Hahn is not a sexually violent offender, but he nonetheless will be subjected to lifetime reporting requirements under Megan’s Law.
Although Toprani noted that Hahn’s guilty plea meant the victim would not be subjected to questioning at a criminal trial, those who addressed the court told of the terrible toll the assault took on the girl and her family.
The girl’s father choked back tears as he told of his daughter enrolling in cyberschool but still taking two classes at Charleroi high school.
“She was an outsider in her own school,” he said. “Her whole world was turned upside-down.”
The victim’s father said of Hahn, “He has been free for the past 10 months while (my daughter) has been imprisoned by judgment and ridicule.”
Her mother told the court, “It would probably be easier to for me to tell you what part of her life has not been affected.” She said the family is disappointed with the sentence but would accept the court’s decision.
“How long will the rippling effect of Jeffrey Hahn’s actions last?” the girl’s grandmother asked.
Two Charleroi High School teachers and the victim’s cousin also told of her struggles.
When Hahn, of Allison Park, Allegheny County, stood to read a statement, the victim and her parents walked out of the courtroom. They were absent when he said, “She put her confidence in me, and I shattered it. I apologize for the pain and embarrassment I caused.”
He attributed his actions to a “lapse of judgment” and said, “I know I am not, nor will I ever be, a predator or a pedophile.”
The three returned to the courtroom after Hahn had concluded.
Hahn resigned voluntarily and surrendered his teaching certificate. In his letter of resignation to Beth-Center last month, he apologized and accepted full responsibility for “distress I may have caused the school district.”
Repercussions of the encounter were also evident in the case of a former Charleroi Area High School teacher who was placed on 12 months of court supervision for failing to report the student was having sex with Hahn.
Jennifer M. Joyce, 27, of 104 Reed Ave., Apt. 8, Bellevue, appeared in January before DiSalle and was admitted to the county’s Accelerated Rehabilitation Disposition program for first offenders on the charge of failing to report suspected child abuse.
According to court records, Joyce knew about the relationship between the student and Hahn because the teen told her, court records indicate.
If Joyce successfully completes the program, she can petition the court to have her record expunged. She is no longer with the school district.