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‘Monsters are real’

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

Former teacher Gary Gregor listens to his wife speak at a Thursday hearing at which a Santa Fe judge sentenced him to 108 years in prison for sexually abusing students at an Española school years ago. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE – After years of accusations that he abused girls in two northern New Mexico school districts, as well as in other states, former elementary school teacher Gary Gregor will now likely spend the rest of his life in prison.

On Thursday in a Santa Fe courtroom, District Court Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer sentenced Gregor, 62, to serve 108 years in prison for raping two fourth grade students who were in his class at Fairview Elementary School in Española during the 2007-08 school year.

“What those children learned in your classroom is that monsters are real,” Marlowe Sommer told Gregor. “You exploited them time and time again. You enjoyed your power over them, and now you’re here because you’re caught.”

In December, a jury found Gregor guilty of three counts of criminal sexual penetration of a minor, four counts of criminal sexual contact of a minor and five counts of kidnapping. Marlowe Sommer sentenced him to the full 144 years he faced for the convictions, but she suspended 36 years.

Gregor never testified at two sex abuse trials he has been through and didn’t speak at Thursday’s hearing. His wife defended Gregor, saying he was kind and loving.

The victims in the case that resulted in his convictions, now in their early 20s, said during trial last year that Gregor would touch them sexually every day. He kept them behind in class and tried to kiss them while the lights were off and the blinds were shut, they testified.

Neither victim was at Gregor’s sentencing hearing Thursday, but Assistant Attorney General Brittany DuChaussee read a letter from one of them.

The woman, who testified at Gregor’s December trial while on temporary leave from custody in Mississippi for a felony conviction, said her life began spiraling out of control after her fourth grade year.

“Years passed, and I started becoming an angry little girl,” DuChaussee read.

The woman said she didn’t finish high school because she started doing drugs and got kicked out of her house at 16. She had a son at 17 but says she hasn’t been able to be in his life because of her addiction.

She has to do drugs to feel normal and comfortable around people, she said.

But Judith Gregor told the court that her husband is a kind man who introduced her to her new faith in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“Everything that he showed me was love and kindness,” she said. “He showed me to be kind to people and not think about yourself first. He always talked to me about helping others.”

Gregor still faces two more trials for alleged crimes against other girls in Española and Santa Fe, where he had his first New Mexico teaching job at Agua Fria Elementary School and also faced accusations of improper behavior.

Gregor moved on to Española’s Fairview Elementary and later permanently lost his teaching license after additional sexual abuse allegations were made.

An investigative series by the Journal found that education authorities repeatedly failed to act against Gregor – or report him to police – despite repeated accusations of sexual misconduct over the years.

He has been cited in national news media as an example of “passing the trash,” when teachers move among school districts despite histories of allegations of molestation.

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas finally brought charges against Gregor in 2017 after local prosecutors and the Attorney General’s Office before Balderas’ tenure had taken no action.

Balderas said in a statement Thursday, “Dangerous criminals who harm children deserve to be behind bars. We will always fight to give a voice to sexual abuse survivors.”

In 1994, in Utah, Gregor was charged with two felony counts of aggravated sex abuse of a child and one misdemeanor count of lewdness involving a child for acts involving female students. The charges were dropped by the judge the day before the trial began.

During a prior court hearing in Santa Fe, Gregor’s niece had told Judge Marlowe Sommer that after he left Utah and moved to Montana to work for a school there, Gregor would pick her up from her bed and carry her to his bed.

She recalled one time when he sexually assaulted her with his knuckles. But he apparently faced no charges in Montana.

Before he was awarded a teaching license in New Mexico, Gregor disclosed to the New Mexico Public Education Department in 1998 that he had been fired from his job in Utah for violating a school policy barring after-school activities with students.

In 2004, Santa Fe Public Schools struck a deal with Gregor for his departure from the district, giving him a “neutral recommendation” for future employment.

The SFPS recommendation included no mention of misbehavior, despite accusations that included Gregor’s acting inappropriately with girls while on a museum field trip. In an internal investigation, students also described him as becoming aroused when they sat on his lap.

SFPS reported Gregor to the state Public Education Department, but he was only reprimanded and no action was taken against his teaching license.

Gregor’s lawyer argued that the most damaging student accounts were tainted by how interviews had been conducted.

After Gregor faced new accusations in Española, no one from the schools called police. A parent did, but a police investigation resulted in no charges being filed by the District Attorney’s Office.

The Española schools have reached settlements totaling more than $9 million in lawsuits brought by Gregor’s former students.

There is a pending lawsuit filed by students from his tenure in Santa Fe.

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