- The Washington Times - Friday, January 5, 2001

A Manassas teacher who brought a gun to school will not serve time in prison, but will pay a $2,000 fine and be on probation for two years, a Prince William County, Va., judge ruled yesterday.

Circuit Court Judge Frank A. Hoss Jr. suspended a 12-month prison term and reduced a $2,500 fine recommended by a jury for Deena Esteban, an art teacher at Marumsco Hills Elementary School in Manassas.

A county jury convicted Mrs. Esteban Oct. 31 on one felony count of bringing a loaded handgun into a school and recommended the sentence and fine.

Mrs. Esteban, 43, said she accidentally brought a .38-caliber revolver to school in March. She had been working at Marumsco Hills Elementary School full time since August 1999.

Mrs. Esteban declined to talk to reporters yesterday. Her husband, Philip Esteban, said he was "absolutely" relieved that his wife would not go to prison.

Mrs. Esteban's attorney said he will appeal the ruling to the Virginia Court of Appeals. "We are hoping to have the conviction reversed," said defense attorney Richard Gardiner, adding that if the appeal goes through, a decision could be rendered next year.

If the felony conviction is upheld, Mrs. Esteban's teaching career would be over, Mr. Gardiner said.

Under Virginia law, a teacher's license can be revoked following a felony conviction.

"It's like we are entering a tunnel and we don't see the light at the end," said Mr. Esteban.

"I have been working two jobs to pay for all these legal expenses, and my wife cannot work," he said. "This is very difficult for our two children. I don't know if my younger son even understands what's happening. I don't think I do."

Mr. Esteban said his wife was carrying the revolver in her handbag in March for protection, noting that she had been going out late at night to entertain her visiting parents.

On March 6, she went to school not realizing the revolver was still in the bag, he said. A teacher found the bag lying unattended in an empty classroom, opened it to see who it belonged to and discovered the gun.

Mr. Esteban said the teacher who found the bag testified that Mrs. Esteban was "shocked" to realize that the gun was in the bag.

Mrs. Esteban was placed on administrative leave the next day, and her contract was not renewed.

Rick Fitzgerald, personnel director for Prince William County Public Schools, declined to comment on the incident but said, "Any violation of the law is a serious matter."

Police said the gun she was carrying was loaded and did not have a trigger-locking device, adding that any number of students could have had access to it.

Mrs. Esteban had a permit that allowed her to carry the weapon except in prohibited areas, like schools. She has no prior criminal history.

"She loves children. She would jump off a bridge before she hurt a child," Mr. Esteban said, adding that this was the first time his wife had carried a gun to school.

Mr. Esteban said yesterday the incident had not turned him against guns and refused to say if his family possesses other firearms.

"My wife cannot carry a gun any longer because she is a convicted felon," he said.

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