Facebook post delays former teacher’s sentencingBy Emily Etheredge Published 4:24pm Thursday, July 24, 2014
The sentencing of a former Thorsby High School teacher who pleaded guilty to rape and sodomy charges in May was delayed until Aug. 7 for further investigation into a Facebook post.
Chilton County Circuit Judge John Bush decided to delay the sentencing for Jennifer Collins McNeill, 40, of Thorsby, after prosecutors filed a motion stating McNeill posted a comment on Facebook that was inconsistent with her guilty plea.
“We are here for the truth,” said C.J. Robinson with the 19th Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office. “The day after she entered a plea agreement in court, she posted on Facebook to a link from a story written by The Clanton Advertiser that was inconsistent with her guilty plea.”
According to court documents, McNeill posted a comment under the name Jennifer Henry at 11:08 p.m. May 16 on Facebook to a link from an article written about McNeill pleading guilty.
“I would like to thank the people who have supported me,” the post read. “IF I were guilty and IF there were ANY evidence then I would be in jail right now. The plea was the best decision for my family. Those of you that understand the law know exactly what I am talking about. The truth will eventually come out. A lie can’t live forever.”
Prosecutors also submitted a copy of McNeill’s driver’s license that was issued on April 21, 2014 listing McNeill’s name on the license as Jennifer Collins Henry.
On Wednesday, prosecutors filed the motion asking that because of the Facebook post that McNeill’s guilty plea be withdrawn or that the judges allow prosecutors to withdraw a statement related to calculating sentence guidelines.
Robinson said that he could not “in good conscience” proceed without asking the court to allow him to withdraw the statement made for the purpose of calculating the sentence.
The statement was that McNeill was a “person of good character or has a good reputation in the community in which she lives.”
Robinson told Bush that McNeill had continuously denied her criminal culpability, defamed the investigating officer, and openly shown a lack of respect for the court’s proceedings in the community.
Bush said if the Facebook comment was true, McNeill violated the terms of her plea.
“I will not go along with that,” Bush said. “She either lied to me, lied to Investigator Jeff Cobb or lied to the community. I’m not interested in sentencing innocent people.”
McNeill’s attorney, Angie Collins, told Bush that McNeill claimed she did not write the comment on Facebook and that three people, including the victim and two members of the victim’s family, knew McNeill’s Facebook password, and could have posted the comment.
Collins told Bush that McNeill stood by her guilty plea and was ready to go forward with the sentencing.
“So what you are telling me is someone in this community stole her identity and commented on this story as Jennifer?” Bush asked. “My concern is if your client did write this, it is a direct slap in the face of the court system of this state. There is more bad-mouthing, innuendo and rumor in Chilton County where people don’t care about the truth. We don’t have any care about the rule of law, and this is a glaring example. It disgusts me.”
Bush said if McNeill did not make the comment on Facebook, he would like to know who did.
Collins asked Bush if she would be allowed to try and ascertain who posted the comment.
Bush said he would reschedule the sentencing until Aug. 7 at 8 a.m. to give Collins time to trace the person who posted the comment.
“I can’t tell you that this doesn’t make a difference, because it does,” Bush said.
McNeill, a former Thorsby High School teacher, was indicted by a grand jury in February on six counts of rape in the second degree and two counts of second-degree sodomy.
On May 15, she pleaded guilty to three counts of second-degree rape and one count of second-degree sodomy.
The plea agreement calls for a 60-month sentence, with the possibility of making the sentence divided between prison time and probation.
McNeill allegedly had sex with a teenage boy who was 14 at the time the crimes occurred.
Court documents state McNeill confessed to having sex with the victim at least six times and engaged in oral sex two times.
At the time of the sexual relationship, McNeill was an employee of the Chilton County Board of Education and the victim claimed that at least one of the sexual encounters occurred in McNeill’s classroom after hours during the summer, according to court records.
“I have an issue if Mrs. McNeill is going to stand before the court and plead guilty and then broadcast to the public that she hasn’t done anything wrong,” Robinson told Bush.
Since the post was made May 16 on the link to the story on Facebook, the Facebook account with the name Jennifer Henry has been deactivated, and the post is no longer visible.