ELIZABETH - A former Wirt County teacher and coach has pled to charges he had an inappropriate relationship with a student.
Lijiah Heiney, 36, entered the plea Tuesday in Wirt County Magistrate Court. The court will return to session May 14 to rule on whether it will accept the plea agreement and deliver sentencing.
In July of last year, Heiney was charged with six felony counts of sexual abuse by a person of trust. According to the complaint, Heiney, then a math teacher and girls basketball coach at Wirt County High School, engaged in numerous acts of "willing sexual intercourse" with a 16-year-old female student, the initial complaint said.
The investigation revealed the relationship was initiated at the high school and carried over to Heiney's residence in Elizabeth, the complaint states. Investigators claim Heiney engaged in sexual relations with the teen on six occasions beginning May 2013 through July 4, 2013.
At the time of the charges, Heiney resigned from Wirt County Schools.
George Cosenza, Heiney's attorney, on Wednesday said Heiney entered an "Alford plea to two counts of sexual abuse in the first-degree carrying potential penalties of 1-5 years on each. There is a non-binding recommendation from the (Wirt County) Prosecuting Attorney that his sentences run consecutively, but be suspended for five years."
As part of the plea, Heiney would be on home confinement for those five years and must register for life as a sex offender, Cosenza said. The plea also requires Heiney to forfeit his teaching license, prohibits him from having any contact with the student or her family and does not allow him to live in Wirt or Wood counties during the five years. Cosenza said Heiney no longer lives in Wirt County.
The Alford plea allows the defendant to accept a sentence without admitting guilt. In this case, Cosenza said, with the statutes Heiney is being prosecuted under, "the elements of those statutes don't necessarily match the facts of the case. However, he is willing to accept the punishment of those statutes to make the plea agreement work."
Cosenza said he believes the plea could settle the case.
"I'm hopeful the court will agree," to the plea, Cosenza said. "It is my understanding that the investigating officer and the girl's family have agreed to the plea details."