from the Iowa District Court for Clinton County, Stuart
Werling, Judge. Defendant
his conviction for sexual exploitation by a school employee.
S. Mail and Eric D. Puryear of Puryear Law P.C., Davenport,
J. Miller, Attorney General, and Louis S. Sloven, Assistant
Attorney General, for appellee.
case requires us to determine whether hugs between a school
employee and a student can constitute prohibited "sexual
conduct" under Iowa Code section 709.15(3)(a)
(2015). Wickes appeals his conviction on one count of sexual
exploitation by a school employee under Iowa Code sections
709.15(3)(a)(1) and 709.15(5)(a). Wickes
challenges the district court findings that his hugs with a
student constituted "sexual conduct" under Iowa
Code section 709.15(3)(a)(2) and that the State
provided sufficient evidence to show he engaged in a pattern,
practice, or scheme of conduct to engage in sexual conduct
with a student. Wickes also forwards other claims on appeal.
For the reasons set forth below, we affirm the judgment and
sentence of the district court.
Background Facts and Proceedings.
August 2015, Bradley Elroy Wickes was a licensed teacher in
the State of Iowa at Camanche High School. Wickes taught high
school social studies courses and was actively involved with
the students outside of the classroom as the faculty sponsor
of the school's student government and as the DJ at
school dances. Around August 21, A.S., a 17-year-old student
in Wickes's social studies class reached out to Wickes in
person to proofread an English paper she had written. From
the contents of her paper, Wickes would learn of personal
issues A.S. was facing. Following this initial interaction,
Wickes initiated contact with A.S. on Facebook
Messenger to discuss his thoughts on her paper.
Thereafter, Wickes and A.S. continued to frequently message
one another, and their relationship transformed from one of
teacher and student to one of a more personal and intimate
August 21 and October 5, Wickes and A.S. exchanged
approximately 638 pages of messages on Facebook with one
another, with many of these pages containing multiple
exchanges between them per page. These daily messages took
place at all hours of the day, sometimes beginning early in
the morning and often ending early the next morning. As their
relationship progressed, Wickes and A.S. began to openly
share intimate details of their lives. Wickes frequently
discussed his marital issues with A.S., including his sexual
frustrations with his wife. They also discussed his ultimate
decision to leave his wife and children.
these discussions, Wickes made clear that part of his marital
problems stemmed from his desire for more cuddling and
physical contact with his wife. For example, Wickes stated,
"[H]ugs, cuddling and laying together are so important
to me." Wickes also told A.S. that he had previously
complained to his wife about the lack of affection and sexual
intimacy in their marriage. He made statements such as
"I'm a guy that loves to cuddle and show
affection"; "I don't need to be seduced after
this long of a 'dry period' "; and "I NEED
AFFECTION, I'm not saying the booty kind . . . well that
too . . . but I freaking am crazy to just feel like [my wife]
would like to hold my hand or sit beside me." A.S.
responded to this statement about his need for affection by
saying, "[Y]ou're not crazy for wanting those
things. It's part of a relationship. It's a big
part." Wickes replied, "Could you turn 30 tomorrow
Wickes used these discussions to flirt with and encourage
A.S. into a more intimate relationship with him. Initially,
he encouraged A.S. to rely on him emotionally. After Wickes
reviewed A.S.'s paper describing her move from the home
of one parent to the other, Wickes made statements such as
"I didn't know much about why you left. Sounds like
it was pretty rough. You should share more with me sometimes
if you ever want to"; "Hugs and high fives
Monday"; and "Don't hold it all in. That just
leads to more depression and anxiety. I'm always
available." Wickes subsequently continued to encourage
A.S. to rely on him for support in the form of conversations
and hugging. For example, when A.S. said, "I know
personally I tend to shut down after I open up to someone,
" Wickes responded, "So can I expect you to shut
down and pull away now? Better not."
and Wickes would both message each other asking about when
they would get their hugs from one another. The pair engaged
in hugs on an almost daily basis. In addition to their
conversations and testimony about the hugs, the evidence of
these interactions includes two photographs of Wickes and
A.S. embracing-one at the Camanche High School prehomecoming
bonfire and one at the homecoming dance. From September 16
until his last Facebook conversation with A.S. on October 5,
Wickes made a plethora of statements to A.S. about how
sexually attractive he found her and his desire to be in a
romantic relationship with her. For example, on September 20,
Wickes messaged A.S., "I'm going to cross over to
the creeper side a moment and tell you. You are hot. And
pretty[;] kind of a rare combo." This comment came after
Wickes had recently seen A.S. at Walmart, they had hugged,
and he followed up on their in-person exchange by telling
A.S., "I'm glad I just got to touch you[.] OMG[;]
touch hug you lmfao."
A.S. was having issues with a prior boyfriend, Wickes told
her, "If I was his age and had you tell me that.
I['d] be breaking down walls to get to you." As
their conversation that day continued, Wickes told A.S.,
I'm infatuated with your character and heart. The only
reason I feel good these days is I see in you what I want in
a woman. I found out there's a girl that gets me and I
have hope someday I [will] find another age appropriate girl.
he told A.S., "I just want to hold you. Hug choke the
shit out of you, " and "I'd sneak over a hug
but think that's criminal charges." The next day,
Wickes messaged A.S. at school, saying, "Come give me
that hug." Later, Wickes messaged A.S., "[Your]
hugs and saying just think booty made me keep it together
following day, Wickes told A.S. how "gorgeous, funny,
kind, [and] smart" he found her. He continued,
Permission to be a pervy old man? . . . . Your eyes are
amazing, freaking soulful and draws me in. Every face [you]
make is freaking adorable. I told you a long time ago you
look just like an actress from tv. Still do. And then the
pervy stuff . . . you know you've got a great booty!
Below that is some smoking legs [that] are beautiful and not
the scrawny chicken legs like so many others. You've got
a pin up girl build. An hour glass of curves. Read this then
delete and I'll go turn myself in.
followed that comment by telling A.S. he would hug her the
next day when she took a restroom break from another class.
days later, Wickes and A.S. were discussing the school
bonfire photograph that was taken and Wickes told A.S.,
"I'm keeping my self-portrait for my personal spank
bank. I'm hot." They then discussed the school's
"Gender Bender Day, " where students and teachers
could dress like members of the opposite gender. After A.S.
offered a dress for Wickes to borrow, Wickes stated,
"I'm just glad you're just willing to give me
your booty at a moment's notice . . . Yeah delete
that." The pair then began discussing what gets their
hearts racing and Wickes told A.S., "Honestly for me
it's you and chatting. I look forward to it all day. And
I know I probably shouldn't. But just enjoy it. Relaxing
funny. Heart to heart." He continued, "I don't
exactly know how to say it without violating my moral compass
. . . in a different world . . . if time could be changed and
I younger or you older. You'd be completely perfect for
following day, Wickes told A.S. that her "chest fits
[her] perfectly" in response to a message from A.S.
about her weight. When she complained about problems with her
living arrangements, Wickes told A.S., "I'd buy you
an apartment and be your sugar daddy lol if I could afford
it. You deserve to feel comfortable[.] Hugs to you."
Further, when A.S. told him she was getting offline to go to
sleep, Wickes said, "I'm leaving you unsatisfied or
wanting more . . . . That was dirty sorry." A.S.
responded by telling Wickes she would be alone after she got
offline, to which Wickes replied, "No you're never
alone and you're going to go to sleep with me."
October 2, Wickes told A.S., "Ahhh you always look good.
So glad I have you. Had [a] blast as always, " and
"Can't wait for my hug." The next day, Wickes
asked A.S. if he could vent for a moment. He proceeded to
Why ohhh why would I meet someone like you! I'll be
honest[, ] you match me to [a] tee except I'm a pedophile
for thinking so. And I'm not thinking sexual[, ] just
emotional and personal . . . that's not fair for me to
put on you.
their conversations that day continued, Wickes told A.S.,
"I hate that you feel I might leave ya. I'll be
honest[, ] I worry about how close we are because I know it
would get me in trouble, but I would [be] in a worse place
without you." A.S. replied, "[I]f you leave[, ]
I'd honestly be lost." When Wickes told her he
feared a therapist might tell him he could not use social
media or texting for a month, A.S. responded, "I hope
they'd never suggest that. I just idk. I'd just
cry." Wickes then assured A.S., "I wouldn't do
it. I want to hug you." Later in the night, Wickes and
A.S. were talking about the Camanche homecoming dance that
Wickes was DJing and A.S. would be attending. When A.S. made
a comment stressing out about her outfit, Wickes responded
with, "You're amazing in anything."
the homecoming dance, where one of the photographs of Wickes
and A.S are shown embracing, Wickes told A.S.,
"You're gorgeous" and "You're
smoking." Their messaging continued into the early hours
of the morning. Wickes told A.S. that she found him at the
dance to take a picture with him "during the perfect
song." That song was entitled "Hold Each Other,
" which Wickes said he played because it made him think
of A.S. and their hugs. After A.S. told Wickes that she
"would have done anything for a dance tonight, "
Wickes replied, "I think I would get completely lost if
that happened, like everything would shut down around me and
I would disappear into those eyes. If I was that
someone." He proceeded to tell A.S., "You're
hot obviously. But you're soulful. I don't know how
to explain it[;] you're just captivating" and
"you make me feel great."
October 4, Wickes separated from his wife and moved away from
the marital residence. Later that night, Wickes and A.S. met
at Walmart to give each other a hug. Following their physical
encounter, they continued to converse with one another that
evening on Facebook. Wickes mentioned to A.S. that she left
him with a "wonderful perfume smell." Wickes told
A.S. that he was jealous of her boyfriend because
"He's got a shot with my perfect person." He
further told A.S., "I've been walking alone for so
long helping who I could along the way, to realize I was
never going to meet someone that saw me. And then bam
it's you." The two conversed about their romantic
feelings for one another, and Wickes posed A.S. a
"hypothetical" question. He asked her if she would
like to take their relationship further despite their age gap
after she graduated and turned eighteen if his marriage did
not work out. He also asked her whether she could
"really be happy with a guy that's 36[, ] divorced,
and has 3 kids." A.S. replied, "Honestly yes.
There's such a connection. And I love kids." Soon
after, Wickes told A.S., "I'll just say it. I love
you. I never meant for this [to] happen[.] [I]t just
did." After A.S. acknowledged she felt the same way,
Wickes told her, "I've only hugged you and chatted
with you and I feel completely tied to you. When my phone
light blinks green[, ] I know it's a message from you and
I get so excited."
conversation continued early into the next morning, and it
became increasingly sexual. Wickes told A.S., "My
fantasy was laying in your lap listening to [music.]"
After A.S. told Wickes about how she liked to cuddle, Wickes
responded, "Booty touches me and it be [M]arvin [G]aye .
. . for all of 5 seconds at this point." He also
explained to A.S. that his wife had previously told him
"she wasn't enjoying [sex] because . . . she
didn't get what she needed." He declared that the
"lack of closeness sure does kill the [sex] drive."
Subsequently, Wickes described how he liked to give sensual
back rubs by "lightly caressing with finger tips and . .
. spelling out words." He told A.S. that he had
"magical fingers, " and that he would "trac[e]
along the back side of the leg and circles around the
knee." Following this exchange, Wickes asked A.S.,
"Do you delete these messages? I think I'd be killed
if your dad found them."
school later that day, Wickes messaged A.S., "So I
totally freaked out today . . . saw one of the cops in the
building then you called to the office . . . thought ut ohhh
think I'm dead lol." Wickes and A.S. subsequently
talked about their temptations to meet up with one another
that evening before ultimately deciding it would cross the
line. However, he continued to tell A.S. how
"exhilarating" he found their relationship. Soon
after this conversation, A.S.'s family discovered her
relationship with Wickes, and her father and stepfather took
the cell phone to the Camanche Police Department to report
what was going on between Wickes and A.S.
October 6, the principal and school superintendent met with
Wickes, who told them his conversations with A.S. had become
flirty and turned into "conversations like boyfriend and
girlfriend would have." Wickes told them about his hugs
with A.S., as well as his out-of-school encounters with her.
However, the principal and superintendent were unable to view
the Facebook messages because Wickes told them he had deleted
them and his smart phone had been destroyed. The school
district placed Wickes on administrative leave. Wickes
resigned from his teaching position on November 13.
November 19, Wickes was charged with one count of sexual
exploitation by a school employee in violation of Iowa Code
sections 709.15(3)(a)(1) and 709.15(5)(a)
(2015), a class "D" felony. Wickes waived his right
to a jury trial, and he was convicted following a bench
trial. In its findings, the district court asserted,
[B]y September 20 and thereafter, the clear expression of
Wickes' emotional needs and intent was that the hugs
become a tool for his sexual gratification. As in
Romer, Wickes' sexual gratification was from the
emotional intimacy exchanged between him and the Student
during the hugs and in the intense emotional exchange in the
messages he shared with the student. As in Romer,
there was no sex act between the teacher and student as such
is defined by the Code. However, in this instance, unlike
Romer, there was physical contact between the
teacher and student. The Court therefore
FINDS that hugging can satisfy the statutory
requirements of sexual gratification as defined in
Romer and in 709.15(3)(a)(1) and 709.15(5)(a) of the
Code of Iowa (2015). If a hug is given or received for the
sexual gratification of Wickes or A.S., then such conduct is
"sexual conduct" under the Code. The Court
FINDS Wickes' hugging of A.S. was for
his sexual gratification and it was therefore sexual conduct.
district court subsequently ordered the preparation of a
presentence investigation report and set the matter for
August 24, 2016, Wickes filed a motion for new trial on the
grounds that the verdict was both contrary to the law and
evidence presented. Wickes also filed a motion in arrest of
judgment. The district court denied each motion finding that
substantial evidence supported the decision and verdict,
which "when weighed, weigh[ed] in favor of the
verdict." On October 6, the district court sentenced
Wickes to a five-year term of incarceration and a ten-year
special sentence. The district court also ordered Wickes to
register and be placed on the sex offender registry; to
submit a DNA sample; to pay a $750 fine, a thirty-five
percent surcharge, and a $250 civil penalty. It also entered
a no-contact order preventing Wickes from contacting A.S.
sentencing, the district court noted,
Hugs, pats on the back, the sort of encouragement that an
adult can appropriately give to a young person to encourage
them in their growth and in their studies would not result in
criminal conduct or criminal behavior here. This went well
beyond that sort of conduct.
district court further described the hugging, stating,
"It was prurient. It was for Mr. Wickes' sexual
satisfaction, a substitute for the lack of sexual fulfillment
that he was receiving in his personal life, and that's
what makes it a crime." Finally, in declining
Wickes's request for a suspended or deferred sentence,
the district court asserted that it would decline to impose
such a sentence, even if those options were available,
"based on the seriousness of the offense and the depth
of the betrayal of this position of trust and mentorship that
society has given to him." Wickes timely filed an
appeal, which we retained.