Jeremy John Way was more than a science teacher to hundreds of Johnson County students.
He was a mentor and role model, a man whose influence went beyond the classroom to inspire them in many aspects of their young lives, his supporters say.
But that career of good work could not undo the “horrific life-changing mistake” that landed Way in a Johnson County courtroom Tuesday morning.
And it did not dissuade a judge from sentencing Way to four years and seven months in prison for having sexual contact with two 14-year-olds after he answered adult ads the teens had placed online.
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Way, 43, an award-winning science teacher and Science Olympiad coach at St. James Academy in Lenexa, pleaded guilty in November to two counts of criminal sodomy involving the boys.
In each case, the boys initially claimed to be 18. And although Way knew they were younger after meeting them, he was unaware of their actual age, according to court documents.
While emphasizing that he was not minimizing Way’s actions or the harm he caused, his attorney, Paul Morrison, asked the judge to consider a lesser sentence of three years in prison.
Way already has lost the career that he loved and will have to register for life as a sex offender once released from prison, he said.
Morrison noted that both boys were soliciting sex with adult males. One boy later told police that he had 40 such encounters. Both boys had sent Way nude images of themselves through email, which technically made them guilty of disseminating child pornography.
He also asked the judge to consider Way’s acceptance of responsibility, which spared both victims from having to testify in court.
In court Tuesday, the parents of one victim thanked Way for that and said their son, who has Asperger’s syndrome, had attempted suicide three times because of fear he would have to appear in court.
Assistant District Attorney Kevin O’Connor read a letter from the parents of the other boy that said Way had “manipulated a child” to satisfy his own “selfish needs.”
O’Connor asked the judge to impose the four-year and seven-month sentence called for in sentencing guidelines. He said that although Way was an exemplary teacher by all accounts, his actions weren’t simply mistakes.
“They were crimes committed against boys,” he said.
Johnson County District Judge Kelly Ryan said he was impressed by all the support Way had in the community.
“You have undoubtedly helped many children in their academic careers and in their lives,” he said.
But Ryan said Way took advantage of two minors, including one with special needs, which Way should have recognized because of his training and experience as an educator.
“These two boys were the victims of Mr. Way’s intentional acts,” he said.