A judge has dismissed charges against a former Prue Public Schools teacher accused of second-degree rape of a 16-year-old student and furnishing alcohol to minors.
Katie Megan Hightower, 26, of Terlton, was arrested on Oct. 17 for an incident that reportedly occurred on Aug. 17. She entered a not guilty plea on Oct. 23.
During a Tuesday preliminary hearing, Pawnee County Associate District Judge Matthew Henry ruled there was not enough evidence to move forward with a rape trial. He also ruled, referencing Oklahoma Statute 37-506, the beverage Hightower was alleged to have provided to students was not included in the statute since it "does not include low-point beer as defined" by law, court documents show.
According to an affidavit filed in October, Prue students told deputies Hightower bought a group beer after a football scrimmage, took them to her home in Terlton and disappeared into the bedroom to have sexual intercourse with one of the underage boys.
"Based on the investigation and interviews conducted with potential witnesses, we felt there was sufficient evidence to bring charges in the case," Assistant District Attorney Kyle Alderson said. "But in testimony in open court, from some of the same witnesses, the court didn't feel the evidence supported the charges."
When asked if new charges might be brought against Hightower, Alderson didn't rule it out.
"Osage County and Pawnee County authorities will investigate any and all evidence," Alderson said. "I can't comment on details of an ongoing investigation."
It's also possible the judge's ruling could have an impact on future cases.
When asked if he fears the Hightower dismissal and interpretation of "low-point beer" has set a precedent in a state that sells only low-point beer, except for in liquor stores, Alderson referred questions to District Attorney Rex Duncan.
Duncan was out of the office Wednesday.
In his ruling, Henry referenced the following:
"Alcoholic beverage" means alcohol, spirits, beer, and wine as those terms are defined herein and also includes every liquid or solid, patented or not, containing alcohol, spirits, wine or beer and capable of being consumed as a beverage by human beings, but does not include low-point beer as that term is defined in Section 163.2 of this title.
"Low-point beer" means and includes beverages containing more than one-half of 1 percent alcohol by volume, and not more than 3.2 percent by weight, including by not limited to beer or cereal malt beverages obtained by the alcoholic fermentation of an infusion of barley or other grain, malt or similar products."
According to an affidavit, surveillance footage at Walmart in Cleveland shows Hightower taking the kids to buy beer and pizza before taking the kids to her home.
The students told deputies they all consumed beer at Hightower's house, but got bored after Hightower and the 16-year-old boy disappeared into the bedroom. The students left without telling Hightower, because, through the door, they could hear the two engaging in sex, according to the affidavit.
Hightower was later questioned by school officials about her relationship with the boy, and students said she coached them to lie about what happened Oct. 17 at her home, and on another date, showed them graphic photos of a man's exposed genitals, the affidavit says.
Investigators searched Hightower's phone and said out of 1,254 calls or text messages sent or received in the month of August, 45 percent of them were to or from the boy. Numerous multimedia messages were also exchanged.
Hightower was beginning her fifth year at Prue Public Schools when the allegations surfaced. Her resignation was accepted by the district on Sept. 20, Superintendent of Prue Schools Tom Scully said.
According to the affidavit filed in October, Hightower told authorities she met her husband when he was a former Prue student and she married him after he graduated.
Six days after the October rape allegations surfaced, Hightower's husband filed for divorce, court records show.