A former Ahwatukee private school teacher accused of a sexual relationship with a student that started when she was 15 was allowed to travel out of state even though he allegedly tried to get citizenship in a foreign country to avoid arrest, according to court records.
But Justin Walters, 30, of Tempe, on Oct. 11 lost a second bid to travel outside Arizona after the girl’s lawyer complained and the prosecutor objected.
“He’s being treated as if nothing is wrong,” attorney Chase Rasmussen said, according to a legal filing by Deputy County Attorney Marcus Beecher. “He’s getting to live his life while my client is suffering with the after effects.”
Walters, a former teacher at his mother’s Desert Gardens Montessori School, faces 10 felony counts alleging a sexual relationship with the girl that began June 4, 2019, when he allegedly bought an air mattress and alcohol from Walmart and took her to the desert, where they allegedly had sex in the back of his pickup truck.
According to the arrest affidavit, the girl told detectives that Walters began grooming her when she was 14 when they were on a school trip to Puerto Rico.
“The victim and Justin began messaging each other and Justin told the victim that he had feelings for her and was attracted to her,” the arrest affidavit states.
Walters had the victim create a Snapchat account and after asking her to send photos, “the victim sent Justin sexually explicit pictures,” police said, and he in turn sent her sexually explicit photos of himself.
She eventually met with Phoenix detectives last Dec. 30 – eight days after their last sexual encounter, according to the affidavit. “The victim stated she and Justin had a lot of sex,” the affidavit states.
At the time of his arrest, the school released a statement that said, “The employee who was arrested has not been associated with the school since December of 2020.”
Court records show that two days after her interview with detectives, Walters fled to Turkey.
According to new information the girl provided in July, she and Walters were communicating while he was abroad.
“The victim disclosed that he said he was in Ukraine and then Montenegro and that he was trying to find a way to get citizenship,” Beecher told Superior Court Judge Michael Kemp. “He said getting citizenship was hard but he could do it if his family made an investment to the country of $250,000.
“The victim also disclosed that he talked to her about not wanting to go to prison and mentioned that he had a plan, which the victim interpreted as a plan to get a fake identity.”
Rasmussen provided additional information about Walters’ sojourn abroad, stating, “Justin spoke to my client herself about getting Montenegro citizenship and that his uncle was helping him with that.
“The Walters’ family was followed on social media when they left for other trips that defendant was supposed to be on,” Beecher quotes Rasmussen. “There were minors present the whole time, many of which are current students at the school. He is not to be around any minors or members of the school. We find it hard to believe that his trip will not include minors.”
Within a few weeks of his June release from jail on a $100,000 cash bond, Walters obtained permission from a Superior Court commissioner to leave the state for a trip as long as he arranged to have electronic monitoring.
A plea deal is being discussed in the case, but court records do not indicate whether the offer was initially made by the County Attorney or Walters’ lawyer, Robin Puchek.
Puchek on Sept. 15 told the judge that Walters wanted to take a three-day trip to Nashville for his father’s birthday and that “there will be a majority of his immediate family present for the trip.”
In that petition, Puchek also wrote, “There is a plea offer outstanding and counsel is in the process of preparing some evidence for a deviation request.”
“The defendant has been very helpful with that aspect of the case,” Puchek wrote. “It is counsel’s belief that based on the nature and number of the charges, as well as the nature of the evidence as reflected in the police reports and witness interviews, this case is likely to settle short of trial.”
Attorneys were to meet today, Oct. 27, with Kemp to discuss a trial, which has been designated a “complex case” because of “voluminous discovery, number of counts, nature of charges, need for expert witnesses.”
An earlier scheduled Nov. 4 trial date has been pushed to Feb. 3 and the prosecution already has indicated it will seek “enhanced sentences” if Walters is convicted.
Beecher has filed six aggravating circumstances to justify a harsh sentence if Walters is convicted in a trial.
Among those aggravating circumstances is “a betrayal of trust” and “a need to protect future victims from the defendant.”