BY GLENN PUIT
TRAVERSE CITY — A school janitor who initiated a sexual relationship with a then-13-year-old female student received the maximum prison sentence for the crime — seven to 15 years in prison.
Marc W. Morris, a former East Middle School janitor, apologized in court Friday for the two-year relationship with the teen, who met Morris when she was a student at East Middle.
Morris said he wants to turn his life around upon his release from prison.
"I would like to apologize to the victim, the family, friends, the community ... for the harm I've caused," Morris said.
"There's no one to blame but myself in my moment of weakness," said Morris, adding "there is no light without darkness" and "I want to make myself a better person and return to this community."
Circuit Court Judge Thomas Power then doled out the maximum sentence of 95 months to 15 years, based on Morris' guilty plea to two counts of criminal sexual conduct third-degree.
Power criticized Morris's comment about a "moment of weakness." The relationship, Power noted, lasted two years. He called Morris' conduct "destructive" and exceptionally harmful to the victim and her parents.
"Having a position in a school to accomplish this, it's pretty bad," Power said. "It really is.
"This is not Romeo and Juliet," Power said. "Juliet may have been 13, but Romeo wasn't 27."
Sentencing concludes a criminal case with significant community ramifications for northern Michigan: Morris' case revealed a flawed hiring and nepotism policy in the Traverse City Area Public Schools system. Morris is the son of former TCAPS Board of Education President Gerald Morris, and the younger Morris got the job despite a district nepotism policy specifically designed to prevent such hires.
TCAPS officials acknowledged they violated their nepotism policy amid Record-Eagle reports of the allegations against Marc Morris. Superintendent Stephen Cousins suspended Cindy Berck, the district's director of human resources, for a week without pay for hiring Morris in 2008.
Cousins also suspended Cathy Meyer-Looze, TCAPS director of professional development and former principal at East Middle School, for two weeks without pay for not aggressively pursuing and documenting misconduct allegations against Marc Morris when he worked at East Middle.
School District Human Resources Director Chris Davis said Friday a new nepotism policy is being drafted. She expects it will be presented to the school board on December 10 for a first review.