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Former NHCS teacher Peter Michael Frank sentenced to 50-62 years in prison

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NHCSO
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WHQR
Former NHCS teacher Peter Michael Frank, courtesy of the New Hanover County detention center.

Last month, a jury found Frank guilty on seventeen counts of sexual offenses involving three former students of Roland-Grise Middle School in the early 2000s. Today, a judge in Bladen County court sentenced Frank to between 50 to 62 years in prison.

At the sentencing hearing today, Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Douglass B. Sasser applied a range of 200 to 249 months for three consecutive sentences, bringing an end to a legal process that has taken nearly two and a half years.

On May 17, 2022, a jury found Frank guilty of seventeen felony counts, which stemmed from indecent liberties with a child and a student. Of these counts, Judge Sasser told the court his sentence was based mainly on counts 2, 4, and 9. Counts 2 and 4 are related to first-degree sexual offenses against someone under 13. Count 9 is a statutory sexual offense against someone 13, 14, or 15-years-old.

As a result of these active, consecutive sentences, 49-year-old Frank will likely spend the rest of his life in prison and will be listed in the state registry as a sex offender.

WHQR Interview: NC Attorney General Josh Stein on the Peter Michael Frank trial

Frank was arrested in January 2020. Shortly afterward, an 'independent civil investigation' into allegations of a cover-up was launched by two law firms that were already litigating a civil case against the New Hanover County Schools district on behalf of the victims and alleged victims of former teacher Michael Earl Kelly. By April of 2020, those firms had filed a second suit against NHCS, this time on behalf of two Jane Does, allegedly victims of Frank. A third Jane Doe plaintiff was later added.

The case was delayed by the pandemic and moved to Bladen County after a 'change of venue' request due to the intense pre-trial publicity around Frank's arrest and indictment.

Prosecution of the case was handed over from New Hanover County District Attorney Ben David to Attorney General Josh Stein's office, because of a potential conflict of interest; according to David, one of the victims contacted a DA's office employee, with whom she had gone to Roland-Grise, with the original complaint against Frank. Special prosecutor Boz Zellinger handled the case.

Related: Former NHCS teacher found guilty of sexual offenses against students, attorneys say civil case heading to trial

Following last month's guilty verdict, attorneys for the Rhine Law Firm, P.C, and the Lea/Schultz Law Firm, P.C confirmed that their civil case would be moving forward, citing evidence from Frank’s criminal trial that, for them, indicated culpability by the school district. In a statement following the sentencing, attorneys said they planned a trial date for February 2023.

Before Frank’s sentence was handed down, Zellinger argued that Judge Sasser should sentence Frank to serve six active sentences — the three the judge ultimately decided on.

Zellinger said Frank started grooming children as young as 12 years old at Roland-Grise and, once Frank gained their trust, he sexually “preyed” on them. The sentences should represent, according to Zellinger, the sacred trust Frank broke and the public need to be protected from the defendant.

He also mentioned that once law enforcement confiscated Frank’s phone in January 2020 — and Frank agreed to a search of it — that they found “zoomed-in images of girls’ backsides” at Roland-Grise from 2016 up until 2019.

The survivors, Zellinger said, have been struggling to deal with his sexual abuse for over 20-years. He also made the statement that Frank managed to “hide his behavior” and “skate by for 20 years undetected.”

Zellinger pleaded for the judge to give the survivors of Frank justice, including the ones who haven’t come forward yet, because the criminal justice system is “hard on them.” He added the girls had “suffered and the defendant deserves to face the consequences of his actions.”

Bruce Mason, Frank’s attorney, argued that Judge Sasser should “take mercy” on his client because he’s close to the age of 50 — and that he had been “cooperative” thus far with the court system.

At the end of Mason’s statement, he added that Frank’s agreement to the guilty plea would be a “benefit” to the survivors in a future “civil matter.”

Also, during the sentencing hearing, one survivor spoke to Judge Sasser about her experience with Frank’s abuse. She said she had carried “ a lie” and “shame” before finally going to law enforcement. She said she was a “traumatized child,” and Frank took advantage of her trauma.

Moving forward, she said she wants those in the school district to talk openly with students and staff about “vulnerabilities and boundaries,” as Frank exploited her as a vulnerable child.