TUPELO • Braden Bishop will spend the next 10 years in prison and have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life after pleading guilty to having a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old female student.
Bishop, 37, was originally indicted on five felony sex charges and faced up to 135 years in prison before withdrawing his not guilty plea Friday before Lee County senior Circuit Court Judge Paul Funderburk.
As part of a plea agreement hammered out by Bishop’s attorney Tony Farese and District Attorney John Weddle, he pleaded guilty to two of the charges and the other three were dropped. He was then sentenced to serve 10 years in prison. Under state law, the sentence will have to be served day for day with no chance of parole or time off for good behavior.
“I am extremely sorry for my actions,” Bishop said in court before sentencing. “I was the adult. No one is hurt more than (the victim’s) family.
“I am deeply remorseful for what I have done. I am sorry for what I did to my wife and Tupelo High School. God has given me another chance. I am ready to take my consequences.”
The victim’s family agreed to the plea and the state’s recommendation of 10 years in prison. The Daily Journal is not identifying the victim by name or reporting specific details about the charges.
In a letter to the court read by Weddle, the victim’s mother said dealing with this ordeal was even worse than losing her husband to cancer.
“(My daughter) was treated very bad by a teacher she trusted,” Weddle read. “God forgives our sins but earthly consequences must be paid. No one wins today.”
Authorities have said the relationship began in December 2017 when the girl was 16 and continued until his arrest in late October 2018.
Weddle said the victim was a student in Bishop’s broadcast journalism class. She was treated as a favorite, asked to stay after class and meet him after school. He said the state’s evidence could prove that Bishop had sexual intercourse at least three times with the victim.
“All of the incidents were confirmed by Braden Bishop and the victim,” Weddle said. “The state believes if this went to trial, we could convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that he did in fact commit the crimes he is accused of.”
In addition to Bishop’s confession which mirrored the victim’s statement, the state also had witnesses who saw the two kissing in public. By accepting the plea, the state and victim avoided what would have been a closely watched trial full of sordid details.
“The family approved the recommendation (of 10 years) but that doesn’t mean they liked it,” Funderburk said. “It was done to keep the child from having to come to open court and then have the embarrassment of having to testify in detail before strangers.”
Bishop pleaded guilty to one count of sexual battery for having sex with the victim in October 2018 and one count of fondling her. On the sexual battery charge, Funderburk sentenced Bishop to 30 years in prison, but suspended 20 years. On the fondling charge, the judge imposed a 15-year suspended sentence. Once released, there will be another five years of probation.
If Bishop does not abide by the terms of the probation, he could be forced to serve the 35 years the judge suspended.
Before leaving the court, Bishop turned in the paperwork to register as a sex offender. In addition, Funderburk ruled Bishop is “not to have any contact with the victim or her family from this day forward.”
Following the sentencing, Bishop was taken to the county jail where he will remain incarcerated until the Mississippi Department of Corrections takes custody and transfers him to a state prison.