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A Waldorf man will serve 18 months at the county jail for having sex with an underage girl he met while working as a substitute teacher at Westlake High School.

Joe Wesley Respress III, 25, appeared before Circuit Judge Helen I. Harrington on Monday morning for sentencing. Respress had pleaded guilty to three counts of third-degree sex offense in the matter and received 10 years on each count but only 18 months of active time. Respress also will have to register as a Tier II sex offender and will remain as such for 25 years.

Charles County Assistant State’s Attorney Jeremy Widder said a psychiatric evaluation of Respress found he has narcissistic tendencies and considers himself to be someone who thinks he can “maneuver his way” out of trouble. Any claims that Respress didn’t truly know how old the girl is are just lies, Widder said, as she “looks every bit of 15” and given the context in which they met.

Although the sex was consensual, Widder said, a girl that young cannot legally consent. He also spoke of a 2008 incident in which Respress, while substitute teaching at Maurice J. McDonough High School, allegedly sent inappropriate photos to a female student there. Charges were pressed but never came to fruition and were eventually dropped, Widder said.

“This is not a one shot kind of mistake,” Widder said. “I think there’s a good chance [Respress] took that job at Westlake High School because it gave him access to underage students. He hasn’t shown any passion for education.”

Widder said text messages show Respress began soliciting the girl early on and that he’d plied her with alcohol and helped her sneak out to drink and have sex. The messages, Widder said, also show that Respress wanted to groom the girl to become an object of regular sexual pleasure for him with little regard for her.

Respress’s attorney, public defender Michelle Harewood, called bringing up the 2008 incident an “abuse of the state’s discretion” since by Widder’s own admission no action was ever taken against her client. She also spoke of how it seems the girl had been drinking before she and Respress ever met and that Respress has since apologized to the girl’s mother.

“There’s remorse there. There was always remorse there,” Harewood said.

Respress’s mother called him a “very good young man” through tears while addressing Harrington.

“I know he’s sorry,” she said. “He’s got a very kind heart. It’s always been that way. ... He’s so hurt by this. I know he did wrong.”

Respress spoke of his actions at length, acknowledging that “on paper, I look like the worst person in the entire world.”

“I was wrong for allowing any of this to be thought of, let alone happen,” Respress said. “I’m not a bad person. I’m not here to harm anyone. I made a very, very, very bad decision, and I regret it every day. I did not cause harm on purpose. It was never my intention to prey on students. I don’t want people thinking that’s what I was doing.”

Harrington was unmoved. She pointed out that Respress had contacted the girl first, which he disputed. In reply, Harrington asked why he’d given in to her advances, had she in fact been the one to initiate a relationship.

“Clearly you were in a position of trust, and clearly you abused it,” Harrington said. “Reading through the police reports and records, quite frankly I’m disgusted. ... You have not yet accepted responsibility. You stand here thinking if you talk long enough, glibly enough, they might buy it. You reeled her in. ... You are in fact a sexual predator, and until you figure that out ... you’ll probably be back in here.”

Respress also is banned from being around children younger than 18.

lrenner@somdnews.com