BURKE COUNTY, N.C. - The Burke County teacher accused of committing sex crimes against children pleaded guilty Thursday afternoon.
Michael Alexander pleaded guilty to three counts each of statutory sex offense and indecent liberties with a child. He was sentenced to at least 40 years in prison.
The district attorney said after the hearing that the plea deal kept any of the children from having to testify against Alexander, adding that at 54 years old, Alexander will likely spend the rest of his life in prison.
Several of the students wrote letters describing their third-grade teacher as a monster.
With his head down during most of the court appearance, Alexander listened to the words of his own students read by prosecutors on Thursday.
"My parents sent me to school in the hands of a monster. You, Michael Alexander, Mr. A. I sometimes have nightmares at night of this now. I look over my shoulder to see if any man has seen my pictures," one letter stated.
Assistant District Attorney Eric Bellas described how it was an international investigation into child pornography that led the FBI, the State Bureau of Investigation and deputies to Hildebran Elementary School.
"Investigators determined this defendant had a fetish sexual interest in children wearing high-heel leather boots and that he had been trading those images of children in high-heeled boots for explicit images of children," Bellas said.
Burke County Sheriff Steve Whisenant said an international investigation into child pornography led to an arrest of a pedophile in Spain. Videos taken from that suspect showed girls between the ages of 4 and 11 years old in various sexual situations, both with each other and with a man.
Authorities in Barcelona, Spain, arrested a suspect, Javier Alvarez Varela, in what they called Operation Filipo. After the arrest, Spainish authorities contacted the United States Embassy about Alexander's alleged involvement, a police report said.
Investigators said some of those girls seen in the video were wearing Hildebran T-shirts. Alexander had served as a teacher at Hildebran Elementary School for seven years, where he was both a third-grade and drama teacher.
Prosecutors said Alexander not only took photos and videos of young girls but had sexual contact in and out of the classroom.
Alexander did not want to make any statement, but his attorney, Wayne Clontz, did prior to sentencing.
"If Michael Alexander, and I on his behalf, started apologizing and we did so in a genuine way we'd probably be apologizing for years. He apologizes for everything he did," Clontz said.
But afterwards, one parent, who asked not to be identified, did not accept the apology.
"He just made me sick to my stomach. To walk in and say he was sorry. You're not sorry. You're not sorry for what you did," she said.
The plea deal does not prevent federal officials from prosecuting Alexander, officials said.