Former Hamilton County teacher charged with dozens of child sex abuse crimes refuses plea deal

Staff Photo by La Shawn Pagán / Duane Sanders Jr. enters a Hamilton County Criminal courtroom in 2023 for his bond hearing. He is headed to trial in the summer.
Staff Photo by La Shawn Pagán / Duane Sanders Jr. enters a Hamilton County Criminal courtroom in 2023 for his bond hearing. He is headed to trial in the summer.

A former Hamilton County teacher who is charged with dozens of child sex abuse crimes has refused to negotiate with state prosecutors and is heading to trial this summer.

Duane Sanders Jr., 46, is charged with two counts of aggravated rape of a child, 14 counts of continuous sexual abuse of a child and 13 counts of aggravated sexual battery. Each count is a felony charge. Sanders is facing life in prison without the possibility of parole, according to Tennessee criminal statutes.

Sanders was given the opportunity to take a plea deal, but he rejected all offers, prosecutors said Thursday in Hamilton County Criminal Court. He also made it clear that he does not want to negotiate further and is taking his case to trial, prosecutors said. It is scheduled to start Aug. 12.

(READ MORE: Former Hamilton County teacher arrested, charged with statutory rape)

Sanders initially was given a $1.3 million bond, but it was lowered to $500,000. He is no longer in custody and quickly left the courtroom following his hearing.

Sanders, who worked at Wallace A. Smith Elementary School, was indicted for the first time in March 2023. He is accused of abusing 12 male students, ages 6 to 7. The abuse allegedly ranged from touching the boys over their clothing to performing oral sex on them.

Sanders was recognized as a "Hamilton County Schools Hero" in April 2021.

Several people came forward last year to testify as character witnesses on behalf of Sanders. A former Hamilton County teacher and school board member and several family members said during a June 6 bond hearing that they could not or did not believe the allegations against him and spoke of his kindness and generosity.

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In August, he was indicted a second time by a Hamilton County grand jury after additional victims were identified.

Both indictments and all other documents relating to Sanders' case are under seal and not available to the public, according to the Hamilton County Criminal Court clerk's office.

Sanders is scheduled to appear ahead of his trial on July 15 in front of Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Barry Steelman.

He has no prior criminal history, according to the county's website.

Contact Sofia Saric at ssaric@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476.

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