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Former Band Director Pleads No Contest to Student Charge

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SYLVA, N.C. — A former Smoky Mountain High School banddirector has pleaded no contest to taking indecent liberties with a15-year-old student.

Jackson County Superior Court Judge Marcia Hyatt will sentenceMichael Arthur Sandford in July.

As Sandford entered the plea Monday, the victim's mother watchedfrom the back of the courtroom. She said her daughter lost hertrusting nature, lost weight and became increasingly angry.

Assistant District Attorney Monica Leslie said e-mails fromSandford to the girl started out "friendly" but later took on asexual tone.

In December 2002, Sandford drove the student to her home afterband practice and then kissed her, the prosecutor said.

"He's not denying he's made mistakes," defense attorney FrankLay said. "He made the decision that is in the best interest ofall of the students he's had over the years. He wants to minimizethe pain."

Sandford had worked as a band director in the area for 22 years.

Leslie said the investigation started when the student confidedin a friend, who then told adults.

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