A former Winchester middle school teacher’s aide pleaded guilty Monday to child rape, child enticement, and child pornography charges in connection with crimes committed against six underage female victims.
Christopher French, the former McCall Middle School teacher's aide indicted last year and charged with, among other crimes, child rape, pleaded guilty to all charges Monday in Woburn Superior Court and was sentenced to five years in jail.
Judge Bruce Henry sentenced French to two consecutive two-and-a-half-year sentences at the Billerica House of Corrections, as well as five years of probation, during which time he will be banned from contact with children under the age of 16 and from using the Internet, among other restrictions.
French, 29, will be eligible for parole two years into his sentence, according to Assistant District Attorney Michael Chinman, the commonwealth's prosecutor on the case.
Chinman argued for but did not receive a request for eight years of probation.
"We all understand the defendant will not end up doing five years [in jail]," Chinman told the judge.
Although Chinman said he thought there was a "better than good" chance that he would not receive parole after two years, he added that he believes French may receive parole after about three-and-a-half years, which "is right at the bottom range of the sentencing guidelines."
French was indicted by a Middlesex Superior Court Grand Jury on Oct. 30, 2008, on charges of child rape, child enticement (two counts), posing a child in a state of nudity (four counts), disseminating visual material of a child in a state of nudity (four counts), possession of child pornography (four counts) and dissemination of matter harmful to minors (three counts).
The charges applied to French's relationship with six young girls, Chinman said, although there were more victims who were not identified.
Chinman said it was unusual a prosecutor’s office to accept a sentence of this length at a house of corrections, but that it decided to do so in part so that the six victims in the case would not have to relive their ordeals in court.
He said the main witness told the prosecution that although she would testify in court against French, she would prefer not to.
"The benefit to this is that the six victims do not have to testify," said Chinman.
Though the state was satisfied with French's prison term, the prosecution’s inability to get eight years probation disappointed Chinman.
"This is a person who should not teach, who should not coach a child, who should not have contact with children," he said, "And these things should be ‘should nots' for a long time."
Chinman described in detail the crimes to which French pleaded guilty, the most serious of which was child rape.
According to Chinman, during the 2005 to 2006 school year (when he was 25), French initially contacted the victim, who was 14 years old at the time, through MySpace and later began speaking to her via instant messenger.
"At first, the conversations were about normal school activities," said Chinman.
However, French eventually turned the conversations sexual, Chinman said.
Another victim was an eighth-grader at McCall Middle School in 2008 when French began speaking to her over MySpace and under the instant messenger alias "Frenchy1024."
Chinman said French began to ramp up sexual talk by asking the girl about the boys in her grade and by telling her that they were no match for older men.
Chinman said French told the girl he was "a lot younger" than she had heard, and rationalized that she would be dating older men when she started high school the following year anyway.
"This summer, we'll have to drink and I'll show you how it's done," Chinman said French wrote to the girl on June 5, 2008.
According to Chinman, French told the girl if she was lucky she would get to go in "Frenchy's hot tub," where "naughty things" happened, but cautioned, "Don't tell anyone, I'll kill you."
Chinman said the threat was considered a joke by the girl at the time, as it was accompanied by online slang that infers that one is not being serious.
On June 12, Chinman said French sent the girl a lewd questionnaire.
Chinman said French and the girl lived close to each other, and that they agreed to go for a walk in the woods which fell through.
On June 19, days after she graduated from middle school, Chinman said French sent her a message asking her if she was "still a wimp," and she agreed to meet him again.
That time, however, heavy rains prevented the two from meeting, and a few weeks later, the girl told police what had happened, leading to a warrant to search French's computer.
Upon a search of French's computer, Chinman said the defense found a number of photos of nude girls, as well as nude photos of himself he had sent to a number of underage girls.
"There are additional girls identified on the defendant's computer … that were never identified," said Chinman. "This was a relentless pursuit of sexual contact … with young teens," he added, some of which were not residents of Middlesex County.
"He followed almost a script with the girls," said Chinman, during which French would contact the girls over MySpace and then proceed to instant messenger.
Conversations would start out innocuous but then gradually turn sexual, at which point French would send girls pictures of himself in various stages of nudity and ask for nude photos in return.
If girls complied with his requests — some of which, Chinman said, included getting naked and holding a sign that said “Frenchy's Porno Store” — French would then attempt to meet with the girls for sexual contact.
French was charged with two counts of child enticement against two girls, Chinman said, and would have been charged with a third count against another victim if the child enticement statute had existed at the time that offense occurred.
According to Chinman, the evidence for the commonwealth against French was vast and, in addition to saved photos of nude teenagers and child pornography, included sexual conversations with girls that French saved and catalogued on his computer.
French's defense attorney Philip Tracey Jr., while arguing for five years of probation instead of eight, said French has apologized completely and is ready to be rehabilitated.
"He knows what he did was wrong, and he accepts the punishment he feels he deserves," said Tracy, who went on to read a letter of apology from French.
"I made some very poor decisions and errors in judgment … and I am sorry for the anguish [the victims] have gone through," Tracy read. "I never thought of the harm I might cause. I want to apologize to the victims’ families for everything you have endured … [ant to] the faculty at the McCall School for all the negative attention I've brought to the school."
French's father, Evander French Jr., is principal of McCall Middle School. French also apologized to members of his family and his friends for the more than 70 letters in defense of his character that Tracy said were submitted to the court.
"If given a second chance, I know I'll try to make a difference in this world," French wrote.
Tracy said he believes French has the chance to do so, and told the judge French is "a tale of two people" — a good person who devolved into someone else and is trying to make amends.
"I have a very difficult time reconciling the Christopher French I see in those letters … with the Christopher French who plead guilty," said Judge Bruce Henry. "[But] given what I've seen, a period of probation of five years is appropriate."
After the hearing, Tracy said he believed French received a fair sentence, and reiterated that he and French were glad they did not have to put the victims of the case through a trial.
"It was the right resolution for all the parties," he said. "He accepted responsibility like a man.
"He comes from a fine family, and they've suffered a lot. Hopefully this is something they can recover from."
Superintendent William McAlduff Jr. responded to French's guilty plea in a press release early this evening.
"Today we learned that Christopher French, a former McCall Middle School Teacher Assistant, plead guilty in Middlesex Superior Court on a number of charges related to child pornography, child enticement and child rape," McAlduff wrote.
"It will be important for the Winchester Public Schools to be able to provide support and assistance to any of the victims, especially those who may still be enrolled in our schools or to other students who either by association or, who otherwise feel impacted by these circumstances. The Incident Management Teams at Winchester High School and McCall Middle School have met to discuss these concerns and will plan accordingly."