LEBANON, Ohio -- Former students of an ex-high school teacher accused in southwest Ohio of having sex with teen boys testified at her trial Wednesday that she was a supportive advocate who kept appropriate boundaries.
Mason High School graduate Tyler Walton, now of Fort Myers, Fla., said defendant Stacy Schuler offered a helping hand after his mother died and he struggled with sexual orientation.
"Ms. Schuler was kind of like my surrogate mother throughout my high school career," he testified before Warren County Common Pleas Judge Robert Peeler. "She helped me realize I am an amazing person and my life is worth living."
Schuler, 33, is accused of having sex with five students, some football players, at her Springboro home in 2010. She had been a teacher and athletic trainer at the school since 2000. Earlier this year an anonymous tip triggered an investigation by administrators.
She has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Her lawyers argue she had medical and psychological issues and doesn't remember the alleged incidents and that students took advantage of her. She could go to prison for decades, if convicted.
Five teens have testified to having sexual encounters with Schuler, saying she had been drinking alcohol at the time and was a willing participant who initiated much of the contact.
On Wednesday, Schuler received hugs in a full courtroom from students who came to testify on her behalf.
Madison Ewing, now of Kentucky, cried on the witness stand when she told how Schuler helped her through a tough time.
"She really helped me bounce back from what happened to me," said Ewing. "She never turned anybody away. I could go into her room in panic mode almost and she had an instant way of calming you down."
Mason graduate Daniel Santos said the teacher helped him through depression and a drug habit.
"It is safe to say had it not been for her, I may very well not be here today," he said.
Two former Mason students on Tuesday had testified for the prosecution, saying Schuler had devised a plan to enter an insanity plea before she was ever charged.
"She said if anyone found out, she had her defense planned out and she was going to say she was insane," said Katie Degrazia.
Brittany Doria testified Schuler said she planned to plead insanity caused by an abusive husband and divorce.
One of the alleged victims has testified that Schuler was remorseful, but changed after bringing out alcohol
"It was kind of a surprise," he said. "It all happened after she brought out the alcohol and things got a little different."
It's likely the trial will wrap up Thursday. Schuler is not expected to testify.