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AZTEC — Former Bloomfield High School teacher Benjamin Griffith was sentenced today to 18 months in prison for his conviction in the molestation of a student.

Griffith will be required to register as a sex offender as a result of his conviction for criminal sexual contact of a minor, a fourth-degree felony.

Judge Karen Townsend said in handing down the sentence that Griffith committed a "terrible crime," and he failed to think of the welfare of the 17-year-old girl whose breasts he touched at the high school on Oct. 15, 2014.

"18 months is not much, given what happened," Townsend said, in ordering the maximum sentence.

Griffith apologized to the student in a statement to the court and said he was seeking therapy for his behavior.

"You were not deserving of this," he said to the student. "You put your faith and trust in me as a teacher, and I shattered that trust."

Griffith's attorney, Tyson Quail, said his client lost his teaching certificate as a result of his actions and has been unable to find work to support his family.

Quail was asking the judge to order a conditional discharge, which would have allowed Griffith to avoid a felony conviction on his criminal record if he successfully completed a term of probation.

The victim's mother told Griffith in an emotional statement before the court she was "the mother of the child whose spirit you destroyed."

"I don't know how you could look your beautiful little girl in the eyes and do what you did to my beautiful little girl," the mother said, referring to Griffith's daughter.

The victim was represented at the hearing by Shannon Kennedy, an Albuquerque attorney who filed a lawsuit earlier this month against Griffith and the Bloomfield School District.

Kennedy said in a statement that Griffith's actions in October 2014 were not impulsive but part of a larger pattern of predation. She said the victim was courageous for coming forward and reporting the abuse.

"Because she came forward, he has been stopped," Kennedy said.

Kennedy said after the hearing the lawsuit was intended to recover damages for the victim and to discourage other predators like Griffith. No damages were awarded at the Thursday hearing.

Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644. 

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