A day-and-a-half of dramatic testimony and bouts of sobbing and wailing ended Friday afternoon with former Brownwood Middle School coach Landon Westerman, his head and face covered by a coat, escorted out of the Brown County Courthouse by two deputies.
Deputies Ricky Belvin and Ronny Bowman guided Westerman through a chilly drizzle to a patrol SUV, where they helped him into the back seat for the short drive to the Brown County Jail.
Westerman, 30, who until Friday lived in Rising Star with his wife and four children and worked at Kohler, began the day hoping to avoid prison time for sexual contact with a then-14-year-old student in the summer of 2013. The day ended with Westerman sentenced to six years in prison for sexual assault of a child, indecency with a child and online solicitation of a minor.
Westerman sat next to his attorney, Todd Steele, and sobbed, his head nearly lowered onto the defense table, as District Judge Steve Ellis pronounced the sentence. Westerman’s family members including his wife, Courtney, sobbed loudly. Ellis told them they needed to be quiet or leave the courtroom as the victim’s mother stood and addressed Westerman.
“To the family, I am so sorry,” the woman said. “I honestly prayed for you all.”
Her next words were obscured by the raw emotion of her voice as she concluded by saying “shame on you.”
Westerman and his family members had pleaded for probation as Westerman apologized for what he said had been “horrible” conduct, which he said he could not explain. But the month of exchanging sexually explicit texts with the girl, which led to kissing and sexual contact, was “not me, not me. Doesn’t tell who I am,” Westerman said during his sobbing-punctuated testimony.
“I’m begging, please … I don’t belong with other people in prison. I messed up. I did. This is not me.”
Ellis began hearing punishment phase testimony Thursday morning after Westerman pleaded guilty to sexual assault of a child, indecency with a child and online solicitation of a minor. Westerman pleaded not guilty to improper relationship between educator and student, arguing that he had already resigned from the Brownwood school district when the kissing and sexual contact occurred on June 15, 2013.
Ellis heard testimony, elicited by prosecutor Elisha Bird, from law enforcement officials who described their investigation of Westerman and the allegations. The girl also testified Thursday, saying Westerman had singled her out for extra attention. The girl said she believes the kissing and sexual contact that followed were her fault.
The punishment hearing resumed Friday afternoon with testimony from the girl’s parents.
Bird asked the girl’s mother if she believes she hadn’t protected her daughter. “I’m her mom. Yes, absolutely,” the woman replied, adding that she will always feel guilty.
“He made a decision to make an imprint on my child, that it was not his right to, for the rest of her life. … After this happened, I questioned, how in the heck did I fail my child?”
The woman said her daughter had spiraled downhill and become depressed and anxious, and had quit athletics.
After Bird rested the state’s case, Todd called Westerman to the witness stand. Westerman, who is from Rising Star, said he’d dreamed since he was a boy of being a coach and teacher. After graduating from Tarleton State University, Westerman said, he was hired as a middle school coach and Texas history teacher in Springtown.
Westerman and his wife had a daughter but were having problems and separated. Westerman said then-Athletic Director Bob Shipley hired him as a middle school coach in Brownwood for the 2012-’13 school year. He also taught Texas history.
Under Steele’s questioning, Westerman did not give many details of his involvement with the Brownwood Middle School student but testified about how he viewed his conduct.
“Horrible,” Westerman said. “I don’t know why … I’ve tried to figure out the last three years, why … stupid. Just completely ruined my life and my kids’ life, my wife and my family.”
Westerman said he resigned at the end of the 2012-’13 school year because he wasn’t getting along with Shipley. Westerman later accepted a job in the Coleman school district, coaching on the high school varsity level. But Westerman resigned from the Coleman district before he ever started work, telling school officials he couldn’t take the job because he had a problem.
Westerman said he and his wife reconciled and moved to Grapevine, where Courtney Westerman is from and has family. Westerman got a job in Grapevine and drove to Brownwood twice a month for counseling.
The family moved to Rising Star and Westerman worked for an oil company until that job ended with the oil downturn. Westerman said he started working at Kohler last year, and he and his wife went on to have three more children. Their four children are between the ages of 8 and 4 months.
Steele asked Westerman what he would say to his victim and her family. “I can’t take it back … ‘I’m sorry’ doesn’t do it enough,” Westerman said. “I know that. It’s not their fault. It’s my fault. It had nothing to do with their parenting at all.”
On cross-examination, Bird asked Westerman to explain why he’d lied and minimized his actions when questioned by sheriff’s deputies. “I wouldn’t say ‘lie,’” Westerman said. “Put yourself in my position. You get attacked verbally by two people with guns … what would you do?”
Under Bird’s questioning, Westerman acknowledged that he’d previously smoked marijuana and had smoked it for the last time in 2006. Westerman also acknowledged that he’d had sex with two women while he was separated from his wife and had viewed pornography.
“It’s not the kind of person I am,” Westerman insisted. “I am not a predator. I am a good person.”
Westerman said he’s not a child molester, and Bird asked him if the sexual contact he’d had with the girl would be child molesting. Westerman said he wasn’t sure of the definition of child molesting.
“How would you feel about a coach doing something like that to one of your daughters?” Bird asked.
“I would hate it,” Westerman replied.
Other family members testified that Westerman is remorseful and has tried to live right since victimizing the girl, and has been a good husband and father.
Steele, in his closing argument to Ellis, said he was not minimizing Westerman’s behavior in the summer of 2013. “She didn’t deserve it. We understand that. He’s the adult,” Steele said.
Steele asked for probation for his client, noting that a sex offender therapist had evaluated Westerman and believes his risk for re-offending is “extremely low.”
Bird argued that Westerman’s actions have “defined who (the victim) is the rest of her life. She will be his victim the rest of her life.”
“He targeted a 13-year-old girl,” Bird said, referring to the girl’s age when Westerman first began contacting her. “He led her on. He called her ‘Mrs. Westerman.’ He told her what a nice butt she had.”
Bird also referred to the earlier testimony of Brownwood school board member Dr. Lisa Fowler, who said Westerman’s actions had harmed the school district.
As Ellis prepared to announce his sentence, he began by saying he found Westerman not guilty of improper relationship between educator and student because it could not be established whether Westerman was employed by the Brownwood school district in June 2013.
The remainder of Ellis’ statements contained bad news for Westerman, who wilted and sobbed as Ellis announced the six-year prison sentence.
“This case is about more than Mr. Westerman and his family,” Ellis said.