BRENTWOOD — A former Exeter High School guidance counselor was sentenced to at least 30 months in prison after pleading guilty to multiple charges of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old student.
Kristie Torbick, 39, of Lee, pleaded guilty Monday in Rockingham County Superior Court to four counts of felonious sexual assault of the Exeter High School student in Exeter, Epping and Lee between December 2016 and January 2017.
Judge Andrew Schulman imposed a pair of 2 1/2- to 5-year concurrent sentences on two of the charges. The judge also sentenced Torbick to two 3 1/2- to 7-year suspended prison terms on the remaining two charges.
Schulman said Torbick could be eligible for parole after serving 2 1/2 years.
Assistant Rockingham County attorney Melissa Fales had sought 5 to 10 years in prison for Torbick. She asked the judge for the sentences to be served consecutively rather than concurrently.
“The most aggravating factor in this case is the fact this defendant was in a position where she could establish trust with the victim, develop a close relationship with the victim,” Fales said. “She was a student support counselor at Exeter High School, she was the authority figure in this situation, she was in the position of trust.”
The victim told the court he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and hospitalized with suicidal thoughts.
“I now have trust issues with adults, and I am unable to form normal relationships with them,” the victim said. “I fear of being taken of advantage again. There were no physical injuries sustained, but there was emotional and mental manipulation that I'm still struggling to sort through. This caused me to have significantly less self esteem and mistrust of others. The trauma of it all is debilitating in my daily life.”
The victim went on to say that Torbick's actions have an even broader impact.
"This crime not only impacted me but other Exeter students as well, as some of my closest friends trusted her to provide counseling to them as well."
More than two dozen of Torbick’s friends, family and former colleagues came to support her. Several of them addressed the court and asked Schulman to consider leniency in sentencing Torbick based off her record of helping students diagnosed with cancer at a summer camp she attended both as a camper with cancer and as a staff member, in addition to her professional track record.
“My three kids are the best part of my life, and Kristie is a big reason why those kids are so special and they need their mother,” her husband Nate Torbick said.
Dr. Nancy Strapko, a registered New Hampshire sexual offender treatment provider, has been seeing Torbick for the last year, said Torbick’s upbringing by an abusive and alcoholic mother and being molested by one of her mother's partners contributed to Torbick making the decision to engage in sexual acts with a minor. In the time period shortly before the assaults took place, Torbick’s mother had died as a result of her substance abuse issues and Strapko partially attributed Torbick’s actions to the trauma of losing her mother.
Schulman said while he recognized Torbick’s past may have contributed to her actions, he did not believe her difficult upbringing excused her actions once she became a professional guidance counselor charged with assisting students in a number of capacities.
“Somebody who is in a guidance counselor position who has a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree in working with difficult populations knew better,” Schulman said. “This isn’t a situation where Ms. Torbick made a mistake in a truly personal non-professional life with family friends, it’s at the heart of her professional capacity.”
Torbick was indicted last year on three counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault, four counts of felonious sexual assault and two counts of sexual assault. Torbick engaged in sex acts with the 14-year-old on Dec. 30, 2016, as well as various sexual acts in Exeter and Epping when Torbick brought the victim to a movie in Epping, according to Fales. The case out of Lee alleges similar acts occurred from Jan. 1-5 “when Torbick provided therapy (to the victim)."
Fales said Torbick sent multiple partially nude or fully nude photos of herself to the victim over the course of the period when the assaults took place. She said law enforcement recovered 23,000 messages sent between Torbick and the victim during the investigation.
Fales previously said the remaining charges would be dropped in exchange for Torbick pleading guilty to the four felonious sexual assault charges.
The Lee sexual assault charges were originally brought forth by the Strafford County Attorney’s office, but Fales said Torbick agreed to have the case consolidated at Rockingham Superior Court in October last year.
Torbick surrendered to Exeter police Feb. 10, 2017, and she is no longer employed by SAU 16.
As a result of her guilty plea, Torbick was forced to surrender her New Hampshire educator’s credentials and she will be required to register as a sex offender.
At the conclusion of the hearing, Torbick apologized to her victim and their family. She said she had been “hyper sensitized to children in distress” following a suicide of a student while at Exeter High School.
“I am sorry to the student for failing to set firm boundaries. In spite of my sincere intention to help, I confused and complicated that intent,” Torbick said. “For my nine years as a school counselor and the 19 years I spent volunteering at the camp for children with cancer, I never engaged in inappropriate behavior with minors.”
Following the plea-and-sentencing hearing, Torbick was remanded to state custody to begin her sentence.
The New Hampshire Department of Education said the revocation of Torbick's credentials will be entered into the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification database so she will no longer be able to work in any education system in the United States.
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