Former Cleburne County teacher sentenced to jail for sexual relationship with student

ANNISTON, Ala. -- A former Cleburne County-teacher received a 15 year prison sentence for having a sexual relationship with a student.

Bronson Shay Ward, 33, pleaded guilty in January to three counts of a school employee engaging in a sex act or deviant sexual intercourse with a student under the age of 19.

A Calhoun County judge sentenced Ward to 15 years for the charges, to run concurrently.{} As part of a split sentence, he must spend a year in prison with credit for 155 days served, and then a year on house arrest with a monitoring device.{} If he violates probation, Ward will go back to jail to finish the 15 years.

He must register as a sex offender, and will serve 1,000 hours of community service.{} The judge said that might be fulfilled by teaching GED classes at the Calhoun or Cleburne County jails.

Ward faces two additional counts of the same crime for a relationship with another student, with charges pending in Cleburne County.

He taught at Cleburne County High School, where he also coached the girl's basketball team.{} Heflin police arrested Ward in July 2013 after learning of inappropriate conduct with two students from 2009 through the time of his arrest.

The crime of a school employee engaging in a sex act with a student under 19 was not against the law until July 1, 2010.{} The legal age of consent in Alabama is 16, which the victim in this first case was at the time of the relationship.

Ward testified Friday that he thought he had the consent of the girl's parents, due to things she told them.{} He said the girl approached him and the relationship was consensual.

However, the father of the victim said Ward targeted his daughter when he recruited her for the high school girls' basketball team when she was 14.{} The father called Ward a predator.

"I'd like to start with some apologies," Ward said as he began his testimony at Friday's sentencing hearing.

"I want to apologize to [victim's name withheld] family.{} I can tell by your statements that you are not ready to accept an apology, but it will remain on the table.{} I'm sorry for the pain that I have caused you.{} To be called a predator cuts like a knife.

"I always tried to love everyone.{} But you can't help who you fall in love with."

Ward said the relationship was not sexually driven, and that it was the girl who ended it, not him.{} He also said he hopes to maintain his relationship with the second victim.{} He said they love each other and he hopes to marry her someday.{} He asked the judge for a lenient sentence to allow them to start a family.

"When you love somebody, it's hard to call it a mistake that you love them," Ward said.

ABC 33/40 will continue to update this story.