Final NP defendant admits to lesser charge in plea bargain

Saturday, February 23, 2013
Brandon D. Largent

The third of three former North Putnam High School staff members originally charged with child seduction in a high-profile case involving the same 16-year-old male student has accepted a plea bargain agreement.

Brandon D. Largent, 21, Crawfordsville, a paid lifeguard and volunteer assistant swim coach employed at North Putnam from November 2011 through spring 2012, is the final defendant learning his fate in court in a case that stunned the school corporation and the community just over a year ago.

Although all three defendants originally faced the same charge of child seduction (a Class D felony), court records indicate they shared quite varying levels of involvement with the teenage victim.

Sentencing of Largent, who was represented in Putnam Circuit Court Thursday by Crawfordsville attorney Heather Perkins, is set for 11 a.m. Thursday, March 21.

Largent's limited contact with the victim is considered the least severe of the trio. His physical involvement with the teenager reportedly amounted to one kiss in a North Putnam classroom, Putnam County Prosecutor Tim Bookwalter said.

"His case is somewhat different than the other two," Bookwalter said after Largent agreed to a plea deal in which he admitted guilt to battery, a Class B misdemeanor, with the child seduction charge to be dismissed by the state.

Meanwhile, former NPHS interim Spanish teacher Nicholas Vester, 25, Lafayette, reportedly engaged in the most extreme physical contact with the student. Vester made a straight guilty plea to child seduction (with no benefit of a plea deal) on Feb. 7.

Vester, who was sentenced by Judge Matthew Headley to two years in the Indiana Department of Correction, was accused of engaging in "deviant sexual conduct," including anal intercourse and oral sex.

"He (Vester) was obviously the worst offender of the three as far as their activities went," Bookwalter said after the Feb. 7 sentencing hearing.

The third defendant, former band director Craig E. Rogers, 25, Indianapolis, entered a guilty plea to child seduction in a December plea agreement with the Prosecutor's Office.

Rogers, who was accused of fondling the teenager in an incident at the school, was sentenced by Headley to 18 months in the DOC with six months to be served in prison and the remaining year on probation.

Sentences for both Vester and Rogers include being listed on the Indiana sex offender registry for 10 years, a no-contact order with anyone age 16 or under and revocation of their Indiana teaching licenses.

Largent's sentence is not expected to include listing on the sex offender registry, Bookwalter said.

Under Indiana law, there is apparently little difference in the degree of activity exhibited by the three that led to the child seduction charges.

"The age of consent in Indiana is 16," the prosecutor said, "unless you are a teacher or in an advisory position at a school, which makes it child seduction."

Largent's situation, Bookwalter told the Banner Graphic, is "very different" in that he was not a teacher and had very limited control over the victim in his capacity as a lifeguard and assistant swim coach.

Technically, the prosecutor said, Largent meets the statute in that regard, but with the contact being one lone kiss and only a four-year age difference (20 and 16) at the time, extenuating circumstances can be reasonably seen.

Even the victim's father has reportedly said he didn't want to see Largent dealt with as severely as Vester and Rogers.

Court documents in the case noted a connection between Vester and Rogers, claiming Vester "not only knew Mr. Rogers (but) that they had a date together in November or December 2011, and had talked about (the victim)."

Vester also made Rogers aware of the victim and his apparent vulnerability, Bookwalter stated previously in court.

The situation spiraled out of control, the victim's father has testified, after Vester and Rogers dated each other and then "conspired to meet" the 16-year-old.

The encounters between the school personnel and the teenager occurred both on and off school property, the investigation has revealed, over a period from November 2011 through January 2012.

The case came to light in January 2012 when the victim and his family contacted authorities.