An 18-year-old woman was reunited Wednesday outside a Ramsey County courtroom with the man who used to be her teacher -- despite his criminal conviction for having a sexual relationship with her last year while she was a high school student.
"I wish to be with him forever," Anjelica Pentheros told a reporter. "And, obviously, I don't care what it costs."
Her reunion with Matthew C. Ellsworth, 36, was made possible during a sentencing hearing at which her father unsuccessfully asked District Judge Gary Bastian to keep a no-contact order between his daughter and Ellsworth in place.
Anjelica needs time to "emotionally mature and intellectually grow," her father said. "That is all I ask."
Bastian ruled in February that Ellsworth had been in a position of authority over Pentheros when the two had sex on six to eight occasions last summer, and as such, was guilty of third-degree criminal sexual conduct. But the judge decided Wednesday not to jail Ellsworth for the offense and not to bar him from having contact with his former student.
All a no-contact order would do, the judge told Ellsworth, "is set you up for failure."
"I have nothing I can do to control her," Bastian added, referring to Pentheros.
Minutes later, Ellsworth and Pentheros were embracing. They left the court hearing together, Pentheros wiping away tears as the two stepped onto an elevator.
During the sentencing, they maintained they had fallen in love.
Pentheros said she never wanted Ellsworth to be prosecuted. Despite being the victim in the case, she asked news reporters to depart from their normal practice and identify her publicly so that she could make her feelings known.
His attorney, Allan Caplan, said: "We're very satisfied with the judge's sentence."
Her onetime mentor
In 2010-11, Ellsworth was an English teacher at Spectrum High School in Elk River. Pentheros was a 17-year-old junior who attended his class throughout the year and then arranged for him to serve as mentor for her senior project -- an arrangement that would require them to meet during the summer.
By the end of that school year, however, a family trip to Greece that was to be the basis for the project was called off. But the two continued to use the assignment as "a tactic to have contact and be together during the summer," Bastian wrote in his verdict.
At one point, the judge noted, Pentheros' parents invited Ellsworth to dinner at their house in the belief he was "mentoring" their youngest daughter.
The two had sex for the first time after Ellsworth went to Chicago to visit his mother, then terminally ill with cancer. Pentheros, comforting him, initiated the sex, she said later. The encounters continued until police confronted them at his St. Paul apartment last August.
Her older sister spoke with authorities about the relationship, the charges say.
Bastian, in his ruling, said the case marked the first time a Minnesota teacher had been charged with sexual misconduct that allegedly occurred between the end of one school year and the start of another.
Last year, Gail Gagne, a former Cretin-Derham Hall teacher who had engaged in sexual conduct with a student she was supervising as a weight-room instructor in the summer of 2008, agreed to a plea deal in Hennepin County that saw her convicted of fifth-degree criminal sexual conduct, a gross misdemeanor. As part of the deal, a second count of third-degree criminal sexual conduct, a felony, was dismissed. Gagne also is barred from teaching again.
Felony, but no jail time
On Wednesday, Caplan argued for Ellsworth to be sentenced at the gross-misdemeanor level. He said Ellsworth, now unable to teach, had been struggling to find work. Ellsworth told Bastian he lost a job with a medical supply company in February because of the charges.
Prosecutor Lawrence Schultz argued for a jail term at the felony level -- in part to send the message, he said, that there will be consequences for teachers who violate the trust parents place in them.
In the end, Bastian kept the offense at the felony level, but placed Ellsworth on five years' probation rather than imposing a jail sentence. He also required Ellsworth to undergo counseling and to register as a predatory offender for 10 years, but lifted the no-contact order.
Ellsworth apologized for the hurt he had caused the Pentheros family.
When first confronted by police, Ellsworth was consumed by thoughts of what he would tell his mother. When the two finally spoke, he said, he told his mother of how much he loved Pentheros and of how wonderful she was. His mother replied, "You worked so hard, and it's all gone," he said.
He also recalled his mother adding one more bit of wisdom: "Love wins all battles."
Anthony Lonetree 612-875-0041