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Former teacher avoids prison for drug possession

June 02, 2010 | 08:18 AM
Elkhorn — Walworth County Circuit Court Judge Michael Gibbs sat forward in his chair and warned former Walworth Elementary School teacher Katie Luessenhop that one more mistake will land her in prison for 3-1/2 years.

"Time is waiting for you if you do anything else," he said during her sentencing Thursday, May 27. "The next time you look at drugs, a line of heroin, decide whether you want to give 3-1/2 years of your life away."

Luessenhop, 28, Clinton, was found guilty on Feb. 5 of drug possession after purchasing and using heroin in the Huber dorm bathroom on Oct. 16, 2009, while serving for a previous conviction of drug possession. During the sentencing, Luessenhop said she is a recovering drug addict and has been sober for about eight months.

Gibbs' warning last week came seconds before he sentenced Luessenhop to three years probation, staying the 3-1/2-year prison sentence.

Gibbs made sure to mention the fact that Luessenhop was already given a second chance when she was sentenced following her first drug possession. He said it makes the judge "look weak" and the court "look bad" when someone is given a break and then proceeds to make another mistake.

Deputy District Attorney Joshua Grube also discussed Luessenhop's previous conviction and sentence.

"Judge (James) Carlson made it clear that she was being given a break and a chance," Grube said. "She has a significant problem with drugs and if it continued, the sentence would be prison and that would be the only option. That's exactly what happened, she could not stay clean."

Grube said Luessenhop needed to be punished and penalized for the serious offenses. But, Grube didn't ask for a prison sentence. He said probation was "appropriate" but a penalty was needed.

"I hope she continues to stay clean," Grube said.

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Gibbs also was sensitive to Luessenhop's history regarding her involvement with former Walworth County Court Commissioner and attorney Stephen Compton. According to court documents and information from previous court appearances, Compton introduced Luessenhop to heroin and provided her with the drugs. Gibbs said Luessenhop was seduced by Compton's lifestyle, which included trips to Las Vegas and New York.

"I have never seen a case quite like this," Gibbs admitted. "There are very few defendants that my heart goes out to, but for some reason, I feel terrible for you."

Luessenhop admitted she was an addict and said she now is on the right track. She is in treatment four days a week, three hours a day, and is working hard to get her life back.

"I made a colossal mistake," she said. "Now I am ready to start rebuilding my life."

Gibbs said he believed her and was glad to see Luessenhop on the "road to recovery." But he said she still has a long way to go.

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"You got on a runaway horse and it's taken a while to get control of the reins or to get off," Gibbs said.

Luessenhop's attorney, public defender Jeffrey Krebs, called addiction "a terrible thing."

"I don't understand why someone would trash their life over a line of heroin," Krebs said. "But Katie's an addict."

He also talked about her recent recovery, which now involves family support and extensive treatment.

"She's done her time," Krebs said. "She doesn't need additional jail time. She's been punished."

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After the sentencing, Grube wished Luessenhop luck. She shook his hand and he responded, "I hope you stay clean."

Luessenhop has three previous felony convictions — two for possessing a narcotic drug and one for bail jumping.

On June 25, she was sentenced to one year in Huber with work release privileges. She also was sentenced to three years of probation.

Luessenhop first made headlines in September 2008 when the Walworth Police Department arrested her for possession of cocaine outside of the village's elementary school.

At the time, she had been teaching at the school for about three weeks. Outside of the school, Luessenhop was caught with three bags of a substance sent to the state crime lab. Two bags tested positive for heroin, the other for cocaine.

She was arrested a second time in March 2009 when the Walworth County Sheriff's Department raided her Lake Geneva apartment and found heroin.

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