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Zundel gets 90 days for abusing student

Former Crater Renaissance Academy teacher and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Robert Zundel groomed his victim by telling her she was the reincarnation of his childhood girlfriend who had drowned, according to the Jackson County District Attorney's Office.

Zundel, 53, also told the high school student they would be reincarnated together after death.

Jackson County Senior Deputy District Attorney Terry Smith-Norton described Zundel's calculating behavior during a Friday hearing in which Zundel pleaded guilty to official misconduct and two counts of second-degree sexual abuse for engaging in sex with the student between March 1 and June 9, 2015.

Zundel, who hung his head during most of the hearing, was sentenced to 90 days in jail and five years' probation. He must surrender his teaching license and not work with minors during his probation. In addition, Zundel must register as a sex offender, be tested for HIV and give a DNA sample. Restitution is to be determined.

The girl ended the relationship and later confided in another teacher who had noticed something was wrong. Zundel was arrested and removed from his teaching post in October 2015. He was fired in December 2015.

Surrounded by family, friends and other supporters in court, the victim said Zundel "exploited my trust and used it to fulfill a sick fantasy."

Smith-Norton said Zundel groomed the victim by complimenting her on her appearance and leaving pastries for her at school. He invited the victim, who was in his photojournalism class, to meet at a coffee shop in downtown Medford and then take photos.

Zundel began having sex with the victim in his vehicle on rural roads, at school and in his house when the rest of his family was away, Smith-Norton said.

When the victim expressed concern that she was of similar age as one of Zundel's daughters, he said his daughters would approve of the relationship because he was in an unhappy marriage.

Zundel is married to Medford School District Chief Academic Officer Michelle Zundel.

Defense attorney Jeni Feinberg said Zundel has lost both his career and marriage because his wife of more than 20 years has separated from him. Feinberg said he suffered some type of psychological break that allowed him to justify crossing the line.

"The consequences will follow him for the rest of his life," Feinberg said.

Zundel apologized in court, saying he was deeply sorry for everyone he has hurt in his life with his negative past actions.

The victim said she has waited almost two years for a jury to find Zundel guilty. She said during that time, he insisted he didn't exploit and sexually abuse her.

She said she had to read posts on social media by people insisting he was innocent. The victim said people who think sexual abusers are innocent are part of the reason why girls and women don't come forward to disclose abuse.

During her senior year of high school, she said she lived in fear her peers would discover she was the victim in the case. The school was full of gossip about the sexual abuse. She said she became mentally and emotionally isolated.

"I watched as my closest friends pulled away because my life had become too much for them," she said.

The victim said she was worn down by the continual postponements in the case that put her and her family through prolonged suffering.

From November 2015 through April of this year, Zundel's hired defense attorneys asked for and received 10 continuances in the case. Reasons cited in their motions to push the case forward included that they hadn't yet received all the evidence, were busy with other cases, weren't prepared yet for trial and had a family emergency.

The sexual abuse case stretched on as long as many murder cases.

The victim's mother said it has been almost two years since the principal called her while she was driving, asked her to pull to the side of the road and delivered the news that a teacher had sexually abused her daughter.

The mother said Zundel targeted her daughter even before she was his student, then began grooming her once she began taking his class. The mother had no way of knowing the extent of Zundel's sexual obsession with her daughter. She kept watch over cars that appeared in the neighborhood, afraid he would try to kidnap her daughter and she would never see her again.

The mother said her daughter lived in fear because society often shames sexual abuse victims.

The mother said the plea agreement that will send Zundel to jail for 90 days is too lenient — a gift he doesn't deserve. But because of her daughter, the entire community will know he is a sex offender, she said.

"Today my daughter takes her life back," the mother said.

The victim urged others who have endured sexual abuse to not be ashamed and to speak out.

"You are resilient," she said, adding she intends to heal, recover and grow.

Jackson County Circuit Judge Patricia Crain adhered to the plea agreement worked out between the defense and prosecution in imposing the 90-day jail sentence and five years of probation.

"You're lucky that you're not going to prison," Crain told Zundel, before ordering him to report to jail Sept. 11.

Perpetrators generally spend sentences of less than one year in local jails and longer sentences in state prisons.

Although Zundel's jail sentence is relatively short, Crain said the plea agreement saves the victim from having to relive the experience during a trial. She said the larger consequences for Zundel are public condemnation and shame.

Crain called him an idiot with an obsession, and assured the victim that Zundel could just as easily have targeted another girl at school.

"It's not your fault," Crain told her. "It was him."

— Reach staff reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.

Jeffrey Zundel