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Ex-teacher in prison for rape is seeking a break

James D. Van Valkinburgh, a former teacher convicted of rape for having sex with a 16-year-old student, wants his sentence reduced or a new trial.

Van Valkinburgh, 44, now an inmate in Groveland Correctional Facility, was a teacher at Sacred Heart Academy when he was charged. He pleaded guilty to three counts of statutory rape in 2008.

State Supreme Court Justice John L. Michalski reserved decision on the matter after defense lawyer Paul Bender contended that the three-to-nine-year prison term Michalski imposed was "unduly harsh and excessive." Bender also said Michalski's role in the case may have been improper because the judge's daughters were Sacred Heart students at the time of the incidents.

Rosanne Eimer Johnson, chief of the Erie County district attorney's Special Victims Bureau, argued that there is "absolutely no statutory authority" to grant Van Valkinburgh's demands. She also argued that Michalski displayed unnecessary leniency in sparing Van Valkinburgh a longer term.

Van Valkinburgh admitted repeatedly having sex with the girl in 2007. School officials fired him in October 2007 and notified authorities. A grand jury indicted him in the sex incidents.

A Sacred Heart social studies faculty member for 13 years, Van Valkinburgh was also a golf coach and technical director for student musicals at the Amherst school.

e-mail: mgryta@buffnews.com

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