UPDATE: HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – The Huntsville City School Board held a personnel hearing for Desma Willis on Thursday, April 11. Willis was at the hearing. The hearing was an opportunity for Willis to appeal the school superintendent’s recommendation to terminate her contract.
Willis did not have a lawyer present during the hearing. The school board evaluated evidence, including federal court documents, while considering Willis’ case.
The five-member school board voted unanimously to uphold the superintendent’s recommendation to terminate Willis’ employment contract.
PREVIOUS STORY: A Huntsville teacher is sentenced in federal court on Friday. Desma Willis pleaded guilty to weapons charges connected to a drug cartel in Mexico. Prosecutors said Willis gave false information to a gun dealer to buy guns for another person.
Many in the Tennessee Valley are paying attention to everything gun-related because of what happened at a Connecticut elementary school. The federal judge said some of the guns involved in Willis’ case are the same style used in the Sandy Hook shooting.
Willis is used to being in front of a class, but not a judge. The 13-year teaching veteran at Montview Elementary avoided going to prison. Her future as a teacher is not so clear.
“The school system will put the person on administrative leave pending an investigation,” said Dr. Barbara Cooper, Huntsville Deputy Superintendent.
U.S. Marshals accused Willis of lying to licensed gun dealers to buy weapons for someone else. An indictment alleges Willis purchased four weapons, including an AR-15 rifle, from two dealers.
Willis pleaded guilty to the federal charges. The judge sentenced her to two years of supervised probation and six months of electronic monitoring.
Leaders at Huntsville City Schools had no idea about Willis’ legal troubles. The school district’s top brass is now conducting its own investigation.
“It means we are going to give the employee an opportunity to share what has occurred, so they’ll be heard,” said Dr. Cooper. “They will get due process. We will then have conversations with personnel to determine what the next steps need to be including informing the principal.”
Court records show Willis is an award-winning teacher who was named the ‘Montview Teacher of the Year’ in 2011.
She was also recently profiled in one of WHNT NEWS 19’s ‘Tools for Teachers’ segments. Willis’ attorney used that segment in her defense as a testament to her character.
The judge cited Willis’ involvement in the community and limited criminal record as a contributing factor in the sentence she handed down.
Court records show Willis pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor theft charge 12 years ago.
Willis’ associate in this case is Gary Lee Madison. Court documents say Madison convinced Willis and five others to buy 26 guns for him. Prosecutors say most of those guns wound up in the hands of Los Zetas, a Mexican drug cartel. The Mexican Army recovered 19 of the weapons, including three .50 caliber sniper rifles and a variety of assault rifles.
A judge sentenced Madison to 4 years 9 months in prison. He will serve three years of supervised probation once released.
Six other defendants were sentenced in the case, for completing “straw purchases” of firearms: Ruffin Wilkerson Blaylock, Jr., Courtney Kentae Hobbs, Amanda Dion Osborn, Timothy Lynn Osborn, Reggie Ellison and Quentin Donta Hall.