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Probation for ex-Sidwell teacher

A longtime Sidwell Friends School teacher was placed on five years of probation Monday for fondling a 15-year-old student, the result of an earlier plea agreement that spared the victim from having to testify in court.

Robert A. "Pete" Peterson, 65, will not have to serve time in jail. But he has been fired over the case, must register on Maryland’s online sex offender listing and can no longer be around children without another adult present.

He also has 15 years of possible prison time hanging over his head if he gets in trouble again.

A popular instructor, Peterson taught seventh and eighth grades at Sidwell, one of the Washington area's premiere schools. He spoke in court Monday, his first public comments about the case.

"I believe we're masters of our fate by the decisions that we make. And I've made some bad ones," said Peterson, silver-haired and reading a statement through wire-rimmed glasses.

He apologized to the victim, the victim's family and his own family:

"I am truly sorry. As a teacher for over 40 years, I have often advised my students that when they've gotten into trouble or made a serious mistake, they should stand tall and face the situation directly. They should never lie, or try to weasel out of the consequences. I want to live up to that principle. I intend to face the consequences, and more importantly make amends for the damage done."

Peterson earlier pleaded guilty to one count of sex abuse of a minor. Prosecutors and police said the abuse began when the boy was 14 at Peterson’s home in Silver Spring, and continued after the boy was 15 and when the boy was at a summer camp on the Eastern Shore where Peterson served as a director of a camp.

Prosecutors said they did not take the case to trial in large part because of the wishes of the victim and the victim's family. There was no physical evidence in the case, according to attorneys, and the victim could have been subjected to a potentially rough cross-examination. Prosecutors have tried to keep his name private, referring him to John Doe in earlier proceedings.

The family felt that a trial "would be counter-productive to the progress he has made,” Montgomery state's attorney John McCarthy said in an interview.

Peterson's attorneys said Peterson didn't want the boy to have testify either.

In the earlier plea hearing, prosecutors described how Peterson was the boy's teacher in middle school. Later, Peterson hired him to do odd jobs at his home -- moving furniture or cleaning, for example. That progressed to conversations about sex to massages to Peterson fondling the boy inside his bathroom.

-- Dan Morse

By Dan Morse  | September 20, 2010; 2:18 PM ET
Categories:  Dan Morse, From the Courthouse, Montgomery, Updates  
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Really. This is pathetic. Chronic abuse of a minor settled for nothing? Director of a camp? YOu think this kid was the only one. Sidwell friends go figure. No time. Probably didnt want to testify. Whatever.

Posted by: spk202 | September 20, 2010 3:47 PM | Report abuse

I think that something strange happens in the case of some men when they reach old age. I've read of several such cases of older men (often teachers, ministers, etc.) who have no history of sexual deviance and are arrested in their 60's and 70's, usually to the shock of their friends and families.

Anyone know if this is documented anywhere?

Posted by: atrepos1 | September 20, 2010 5:25 PM | Report abuse

I'm disgusted. I attended that camp a few years ago. Sexual abuse of a minor and no jail time? Ridiculous....of course he's"standing tall and facing the consequences," he got off so easy. I can't believe it.

Posted by: kditt12 | September 20, 2010 5:59 PM | Report abuse

This man should be commended for pleading guilty and accepting responsibility for his actions. LOL

Posted by: cr10 | September 20, 2010 7:47 PM | Report abuse

And this is Sidwell's fault because, why? They put the guy on probation the minute they could and he never came back to campus. From accounts they sought anyone else to come forward, and no one else did.

Posted by: LukasWP | September 20, 2010 9:32 PM | Report abuse

I'm not at all convinced that there were no other victims. Reads like a whitewash.

Posted by: blasmaic | September 20, 2010 10:22 PM | Report abuse

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