MONTGOMERY CO., Md. - A former Silver Spring elementary school teacher faces 48 years behind bars.
Judge David Boynton sentenced John Vigna, 51, to 80 years in prison on Friday, with all but 48 of those years suspended.
The longtime Montgomery County teacher was convicted by a jury earlier this year on nine criminal charges, including 4 counts of child sex abuse and 5 counts of third degree sex offense.
Police charged him with inappropriately touching five children, but the jury convicted him of four.
Charging documents detailed how two 11-year-old victims disclosed the sexual abuse.
At the time, Vigna was a third grade teacher at Cloverly Elementary School.
One of the students came forward after taking a “Personal Body Safety” class, according to court documents. The victim told a teacher that Vigna had been squeezing her buttocks and asking her sit on his lap since August 2014 through February 2016.
Charging documents indicate that Vigna would ask for hugs from young girls and also would sit some girls on his lap and “rock them back and forth.”
When one victim attempted to get up, Vigna grabbed one victim by the hips and forced her back down into his lap.
Documents say one of the initial victims said the same scenario was repeated between four to five times starting in 2014.
"It’s a very sad case because I’m sure that every person that has a child in Montgomery County Public Schools wants that child to be safe," says State's Attorney John McCarthy.
The sentence came down Friday afternoon after emotional testimony from both the victims' parents and supporters of Vigna.
A large group of his family members, friends, and educators, wore t-shirts with the hashtag "VignaStrong."
"You see behind me supporters of John and that is supposedly a bad thing because that proved that he was somehow guilty by leading people to believe that he is something he is not," sayss Vigna's older sister, Patti Assia. "He has been wrongfully convicted, we will continue to fight until he is vindicated and justice is served."
Judge Boynton said he has never received so many letters in support of a defendant with such serious charges.
At the same time, he said, he was disturbed that the supporters were blaming the victims and their families.
He said it's outrageous that they are being ostracized and feels its disgraceful they are being shunned.
State's Attorney McCarthy, who said the sentence falls exactly under Maryland sentencing guidelines, echoed those concerns.
"For anyone who thinks that kids that are victims in this case are not continuing to suffer trauma from what happened to them, well you got it wrong," he said. "Some of these kids are having really emotionally hard times, tough time sleeping, issues about suicide, this is tough stuff."
McCarthy also brought up the fact that Vigna was reprimanded and intervened with about his behavior several times before he was charged, but did not change his ways.
In response to a question about why the investigation didn't start sooner with Vigna, McCarthy said he did not want to speak on behalf of Montgomery County Schools.
However, with things like the "personal body safety class," he says, "We're doing things differently now."
The Superintendent of Schools released a statement after Vigna's conviction:
"I recognize this has been an extremely difficult time for many students, families and staff members. I express my deepest gratitude to the community for its patience and unwavering commitment to our students throughout this process.”