Former Washington County elementary school teacher sentenced for sexually abusing students

ST. GEORGE — A former St. George school teacher was sentenced to four consecutive life sentences Tuesday after pleading no contest to molesting students during his 32-year career.

Curtis William Payne, 60, of Santa Clara, appeared before 5th District Judge Jeffrey Wilcox to receive his sentencing and hear statements from his victims and their families. The prosecutor also read letters from victims who were unable to attend, wanted to maintain anonymity or who had yet to turn 18 years old.

Payne declined to address the court following the statements from his victims and his son, who asked the judge to enforce the maximum sentence and offered an apology to the victims on behalf of the family, excluding the defendant.

“Mr. Payne, I don’t have a lot to say to you. You have earned the sentence that will be handed down shortly,” Wilcox said.

Before sentencing Payne, Wilcox addressed the victims who had come forward throughout the case and any victims who have not yet spoken out.

Sixty-year-old Curtis Williams Payne appears before a 5th District judge, St. George, Utah, Sept. 24, 2019 | Photo by Ryann Richardson, St. George News

Thirty-one women and girls between the ages of 12 and 41 years came forward to speak out against the former Washington County School District elementary school teacher who taught within the district for over 30 years.

Wilcox called each of the women brave and urged them to continue to seek therapy in the hope that one day they will find relief from the pain the defendant caused them.

The judge addressed Payne’s family, who he said have also been victimized as Payne “lived a lie” and “raised his family believing those lies.”

Wilcox said he is “frankly appalled” at how the school district handled the matter, citing Payne’s personnel file — which was included in the criminal investigation — as he illustrated the defendant’s already rocky history, of which the district was allegedly completely aware.

“The Washington County School District revealed multiple incidents of documented concerns and complaints with regard to the defendant’s behavior around female students,” he said.

Sixty-year-old Curtis Williams Payne appears before a 5th District judge, St. George, Utah, Sept. 24, 2019 | Photo by Ryann Richardson, St. George News

The judge listed a number of times when the school district enacted disciplinary action or received complaints dating back to before 1999.

Wilcox also shared that in 2001, the district reached out to a student’s parents after an incident with Payne. In 2002, the district received a series of complaints after Payne was observed inappropriately touching and rubbing against students at a swim party attended by students.

The district issued a “letter of warning,” outlining instructions for Payne to follow when interacting with students, including not allowing students to sit on his lap, keeping an arms-length away from students and leaving the last row of lights on during a movie or presentation.

These guidelines had been given to Payne during a disciplinary hearing in 1999. Similar actions were also carried out by the district in 2007 and 2008.

Sixty-year-old Curtis Williams Payne appears before a 5th District judge, St. George, Utah, Sept. 24, 2019 | Photo by Ryann Richardson, St. George News

“In spite of being placed on probation with regard to his employment status, being given a final warning by the school district and then admitting to violating some or all of the above directives on more than one occasion, the defendant was not only allowed to continue to teach but continued to teach his obvious preferred victim age group,” Wilcox said. “I was dismayed when I read that; I’m appalled.”

Payne received four 15-years-to-life sentences, which the defendant previously agreed would be served consecutively.

As a part of his plea agreement, Payne pleaded no contest to four counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a child, each a first-degree felony, and the remaining nine counts were dismissed. Restitution is set to be open for 90 days.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!