CLIFTON PARK: Shen teacher pleads guilty

With prospective jurors waiting upstairs at the Saratoga County courthouse on Monday, Nov. 26, Christopher Culver, 33, pleaded guilty to 49 counts related to sexually abusing eight young boys in his kindergarten and first-grade classrooms at Shenendehowa central schools.

The 11th-hour switch from his not guilty plea at his arraignment in July stunned prosecutor Jennifer Jensen, who expressed her fury at Culver for allowing the trial to proceed to the point of preparing the young students to testify at the criminal trial.

We had the kids in here over their Thanksgiving break to get them used to the courtroom, said Jensen, standing in the halls outside the courtroom following the short court session. "They sat in the witness box to prepare themselves. I'd heard about a possibility of him changing his plea, but I never thought he had the courage to do it."

"This is not a plea bargain," said Saratoga County District Attorney James A. Murphy III. "This was as if the jury came back with a guilty verdict on every single count. The sentencing is in the hands of the court now, but we believe the interest of justice has been preserved."

Jurors arrive

Before 9 a.m., in the drizzly cold rain, people carrying jury summons cards lined up at a side door at the court complex in Ballston Spa to pass through a metal detector and have their bags searched by security officers. A couple of curious area residents, who declined to give their names, heard about the case on the news and showed up to see it for themselves.

Once inside, the people summoned were ushered directly upstairs in the subdued atmosphere of the brick courthouse. Members of the press were allowed into the courtroom early, where Judge Jerry Scarano held routine proceedings including processing DWI and lesser convictions. Just before 10 a.m., Christopher Culver entered the room and sat at the defense table. Wearing a baggy dark suit and his trademark wire-rimmed glasses, Culver made no eye contact with his estranged wife, Christine, and his father, Robert, who sat together in the last row of the audience seating. Culver showed no visible emotion but appeared pale and intent.

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