WOLFEBORO — For the second time in less than a week a Superior Court judge has rejected a plea deal for a former high school teacher facing charges related to his sexual relationship with a former student.
Prosecution and defense attorneys failed to convince Judge James D. O’Neill III to accept a negotiated plea that would have allowed Michael Harbrook, 49, to be incarcerated in a county corrections facility instead of State Prison.
Under the latest plea deal, Harbrook was offering to plead guilty to two counts of witness tampering in exchange for two consecutive 12-month sentences in the Belknap County House of Correction. However, under the terms of the negotiated plea, Harbrook would have been able to serve eight months of the second sentence under house arrest on condition of good behavior during the first four months of the sentence. That coupled with the possibility that his first one-year sentence could be reduced to eight months for good behavior, meant that Harbrook’s total time in confinement could be just one year.
When Harbrook appeared before O’Neill on Jan. 23, the judge signaled to Deputy Carroll County Attorney Steven Briden and defense attorney Caroline Smith that he believed the charges against Harbrook were serious enough to warrant time in State Prison.
Harbrook, who formerly taught English at Kingswood Regional High School in Wolfeboro, is also charged with falsifying evidence, to which he was agreeing to accept a 2½- to five-year suspended sentence on condition of seven years of good behavior, under the plea deal.
As of Friday morning, jury selection for Harbrook’s case was scheduled to take place in Belknap Superior Court on Monday, However, when the trial itself will get underway is still undetermined.
Harbrook had also been facing four counts of possessing child sex abuse images, but those were dismissed — or nol prossed — by the prosecution three weeks ago.
Briden said the his office made that decision after reviewing the evidence in the case, the language of the relevant state law, and considering the impact the trial could have on the victim, who is now 21 years old.