Brittany Zamora

PHOENIX — A former suburban Phoenix elementary school teacher avoided the maximum sentence Friday for sexually abusing a 13-year-old student, including engaging in a sexual act in the presence of a second boy.

Judge Sherry Stephens opted to sentence Brittany Ann Zamora to 20 years in prison instead of the 27 years prosecutors had asked for under a plea agreement. Zamora will also be on lifetime probation and have to register as a sex offender.

"The defendant did accept responsibility by pleading guilty. She has expressed her remorse. She has no prior criminal history," Stephens said.

Zamora, 28, apologized in court to the victims and to her family.

"I'm not a threat to society by any means," she said, sniffling at times. "I'm a good genuine person who made a mistake and regrets it deeply."

Authorities say Zamora had multiple sexual encounters with the 13-year-old boy in a classroom at Las Brisas Academy in Goodyear and in her car during February and March 2018. Some physical contact between Zamora, who at the time was 27 years old, and the sixth-grader occurred during class while other students were watching a video, according to documents.

Investigators also say a second boy, age 11, had seen Zamora having sex with the 13-year-old student. They say Zamora showed naked photos to both boys.

Zamora could have faced 40 years in prison for her guilty pleas a month ago to sexual conduct with a minor, attempted child molestation and public sexual indecency.

Her plea deal called for her to be sentenced to at least 20 years on the sexual conduct conviction and didn't make recommendations on the other two convictions.

As part of the plea agreement, 12 other criminal charges against Zamora will be dismissed.

In a court filing, the mother of the 13-year-old victim said she found the plea deal to be too lenient. The mother said Zamora betrayed her trust, stole her son's innocence and that her son will need to undergo counseling.

"I hate Brittany Zamora for what she did to my son and our family," the mother wrote. "We should not suffer for someone else's sick pleasure, but we all are."

The boy told authorities that the sexual encounters began after he and Zamora started messaging each other in a classroom chat group. Police say Zamora sent the boy nude photos after sending messages to each other.

She was arrested in March 2018 after the victim's father and stepmother discovered text messages between her and the child. Zamora and her husband had called the boy's father, pleading for him not to call police, the father told authorities.

A lawsuit filed by the parents of the 13-year-old victim said the Liberty School District failed to investigate reports of misconduct involving Zamora, an allegation the district has denied.

The lawsuit alleged three students told the school's principal about six weeks before Zamora's arrest that there was an inappropriate relationship between the teacher and student.

The district said in court records that the principal talked to the students about rumors of the relationship, but acknowledged he didn't immediately notify police or the victim's parents about the rumor.