Sheila Loven, a former professional marriage counselor from Bedford, has been given 10 years probation after being convicted of sexual assault of a male client.
If Loven, 47, violates her probation, she faces up to four years in prison. Loven faced up to 20 years in prison for the crime.
She was convicted in Fort Worth on Tuesday of sexual assault of the man during 2009. Prosecutors said Loven used her position as a marriage counselor to split up the couple and have a sexual relationship with the male client.
During closing arguments of the punishment phase of the trial, Tarrant County Assistant District Attorney Sean Colston asked the jury to sentence Loven to five years in prison. The defense asked for probation.
Judge Ruben Gonzalez agreed with the jury's decision to put Loven on probation for ten years. Loven told the judge she did not wish to appeal the decision.
Loven will have to register as a sex offender for the rest of her life. She moved to the San Antonio area several years ago and will have to register there in the next 72 hours.
After the sentencing both sides seemed satisfied with how the case ended up.
"I think this sends a message that we do prosecute these cases and we do take these cases seriously," Colston said.
"She understands that she's going to be a sex offender for life," Mark Scott, Loven's attorney, said. "But she is definitely happy that she's gotten the probation, wanting to show that she's turned a page on this."
Loven Takes The Stand
Prior to sentencing, Loven took the stand during the punishment phase in her own defense. Loven denied many of the allegations made against her in Tuesday's testimony made by prosecution witnesses.
Loven admitted to smoking marijuana with the male victim, but denied using marijuana or cocaine as another witness testified. She also denied having sexual encounters with clients and potential clients.
She said the female sexual assault victim made up the stories. However, prosecutors asked Loven about a marijuana pipe found in her purse when she was arrested on the sexual assault charge. Loven said it was from when she smoked marijuana with the victim, several months before, and had forgotten it was in her bag.
Loven also contradicted much of the testimony made by the male victim and his wife, Brenda Holliday. But Loven did admit she had an improper relationship with the victim.
"I understand the gravity of my actions, I do," Loven testified. "I feel like, I was under a lot of stress. I’m a counselor, but I was a human as well. I think every human has to take responsibility for their actions, not just the counselors. I'm not trying to down play my part at all, I should have not been a counselor period. But, I was and I did and as a result I have lost custody of my daughter and the worst part of that is that it hurts her. I have done everything that they (probation and prosecutors) have asked me to do."
Loven became emotional throughout her more than two hours of testimony. When recalling when she told Holliday about her relationship with her then husband, Loven was overcome with emotion and the judge called for a lengthy break in testimony.
When asked by Scott what she wanted to tell the jury, she asked for leniency.
"I’m begging for probation," she cried. "Not because it’s the easiest thing for me, but because I feel like what I did was wrong and I what I did was unethical and what I did was unbelievably nauseatingly inappropriate, but I never intentionally manipulated anybody."
Loven said she was going through a divorce of her own in 2009 and was struggling financially. She denied having a sexual relationship with the victim though until after she ended her counseling of him. Prosecutor Betty Arvin though had her go through the ethics rules she agreed to when getting her license to be a counselor and Loven admitted she should have known better.
Prosecutors entered several pages of text messages into evidence. Texts Holliday and the victim believed were from Loven, however the texts were sent with an untraceable cell phone. The phone was registered to someone who a Tarrant County District Attorney's investigator says doesn't exist. Prosecutors said the texts proved Loven knew she had power over the victim and knew she was manipulating him and his wife.
"It's impossible because I didn’t do that," Loven testified about the text messages.
Loven also said that she didn't self-report her ethical violations to the licensing board until after a hearing in Denton took place with the victims and her employers. She later gave up her license in April 2010.
Under cross-examination Loven confessed her counseling and inappropriate interactions with clients, mostly social engagements, had left a negative impact.
"I think I harmed them," Loven testified.
Earlier in the day Loven's current husband testified. He said the couple married two years ago and dated for a year before that. He says he has seen how his wife will be a positive member of society now that she's on probation.
"Sheila’s got a good heart," David Cleckler said. "Some of this stuff going on was a lapse in judgment. From what I see, what I witness, there’s not bad there that I can tell."
But in his closing remarks assistant district attorney Sean Colston painted another picture.
"Can’t you see a pattern, Sheila Loven picks the weak and she tries to exploit them," Colston said.
Editor's Note: NBC 5 initially reported the woman was sentenced to four years in prison. We regret the error.