MILLER COUNTY, Mo. — Mark Edwards, former teacher at School of the Osage, was sentenced to 20 years in prison on Friday, Feb. 14, after pleading guilty to Statutory Sodomy. Edwards admitted sexually abusing a 13-year-old girl on a school bus, during a school trip in 2018.
The 20-year sentence was requested by Miller County Prosecutor Ben Winfrey, who called it “the closest approximation the state can come to, that amounts to the word ‘justice.’” Edwards’ attorney, Dana Martin, asked that Edwards be sentenced to probation and no additional prison time beyond the nearly two years he had spent in jail already.
As Winfrey made the case for a 20-year sentence to Judge Daniel Green, he gave a detailed account of the state’s main evidence (other than Edwards’ confession): video footage taken from the bus’ security camera. Winfrey explained the video showed Edwards putting the girl in charge of counting students, after which he sat down next to her as the trip began. He called this Edwards’ “Modus operandi… in which he places girls which he pursued or favored in charge of a special task or job… textbook grooming.” Winfrey called Edwards a predator, saying this wasn’t the first time Edwards had groomed and abused a girl: at one point, impassioned, he slammed his hand on the table and emphasized if Edwards were given only probation, the state would have more charges to file, alleging other instances of abuse.
Winfrey argued this was not a momentary lapse of judgement. In describing the video footage, he said the abuse occurred throughout the entire duration of the trip between Osage Beach and Linn, Mo. “This was not one slip of the hand,” Winfrey said. “It was a continuous act from one part of the state to the other.”
Winfrey spoke of the “carnage” this had created for the victim, who was 13 years old when the abuse took place. “The school failed,” he said, pointing out that Edwards had been moved across multiple districts throughout his approximately 20-year teaching career, implying that other instances of alleged abuse may have been ignored or swept under the rug. Parents are required by law to send children to school, he said, and when her parents did, she was sexually abused by a teacher who was trusted to care for her.
As Winfrey spoke, tears of grief could be seen from the right side of the room, where friends and family of the victim sat.
In arguing for a probation-only sentence, Martin pointed out Edwards had immediately confessed his crime when confronted. “He made the biggest mistake of his entire life,” she said. “He assumed responsibility for his actions.” She referenced a psychological evaluation, and said Edwards had been enduring severe anxiety and depression during the period of his life when the crime occurred. She asked the judge to give Edwards the opportunity to get psychological help and go through the state’s sex offender program, while on probation. “He poses… zero threat to re-offend,” she said the doctor had determined of Edwards.
Winfrey responded with shock at that defense. He had previously argued that the psychological evaluation was useless. “He told the doctor what he needed to hear, to come to the conclusion that he wanted to get,” Winfrey claimed. “[Edwards] clearly has unspecified but clearly dangerous impulses to abuse children.” He cast doubt on Edwards’ remorse over the situation. “He admitted to what he got caught on camera doing,” Winfrey emphasized, claiming there were plenty of other instances of abuse that were not caught on camera.
Edwards and his wife have multiple high-school aged children, and Martin pointed out Edwards’ family had stuck with him through the nearly two years of proceedings. She said they would continue to do so during a period of probation and required treatment, and she asked the judge to give him that opportunity.
Edwards—handcuffed, shackled, and wearing a red jumpsuit—briefly spoke before the sentencing. “I take full responsibility for my actions,” he said. He apologized to the victim and her family and said he prays they find peace. And he told the judge that if given probation, “I promise you’ll never see me in this courtroom again.”
But Winfrey said the only emotion he’d seen from Edwards throughout these proceedings were when it came to his family. “His only remorse… is what it has wreaked upon his own family,” Winfrey said. Edwards may very well have been a good husband, father, teacher, and friend, Winfrey said. “He might have been a model citizen. But a lifetime of good work can be discarded in one disgusting, disastrous act.”
After statements from both sides, Judge Green sentenced Edwards to 20 years in prison. Edwards sat, motionless, with his head down. There were tears on both sides of the aisle. As Edwards' family stayed behind and wept, the bailiff ushered the victim’s side quietly out of the courtroom.