During earlier state proceedings, Bell pleaded guilty to attempted transmission of HIV and additional child sex abuse charges. Authorities had disclosed Bell was HIV-positive.
The damage and lingering fears left by his actions surfaced again Tuesday through a letter to the federal court in Greenbelt written by one victim’s mother. She wrote that she takes her son every six months to be tested for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases and witnessed his grades suffer as he became withdrawn and in need of psychiatric care.
“She finds herself in a particular hell,” said the sentencing judge, Paul W. Grimm.
Grimm told Bell his crimes meant children would face a life of consequences “from someone they had every right to trust.”
“That is really a betrayal, sir,” the judge said.
Grimm said he needed to “impose a sentence that will protect the public.”
None of the victims appeared in court Tuesday. Investigators have said they do not think any victims were infected with the virus.
Bell had coached at Charles County high schools and worked in classrooms at Benjamin Stoddert Middle School in Southern Maryland. Officials placed him on leave in December 2016 after allegations of his actions surfaced.
In addition to the list of disturbing crimes, Charles County parents were further alarmed when they learned Bell’s HIV status. The state charges Bell admitted in January include attempting to transmit the virus and 26 other child sex charges involving 42 victims between the ages of 11 and 17.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Hagan told the federal court that in addition to the sexual violations and abuse of trust, some children endured physical assaults by Bell as part of “ritualistic” attempts to mirror gang initiations.
“He broke them. He was emotionless,” Hagan said in court. “These beatings will stay with the people that suffered them.”
Hagan said the victims were entitled to not “have to look over their shoulders again.”
Federal prosecutors had asked the judge to impose a sentence of 150 years. Bell’s defense asked for a 30-year term.
Defense attorney James E. Crawford Jr. said his client’s actions warranted imprisonment but said they stemmed in part from abuse Bell suffered as a child and teenager.
Crawford said Bell began watching heterosexual pornography when he was 7 and homosexual pornography by age 10, which led to confusion over his sexual identity. He later went into online chat rooms where he met men who would come to his home and abuse him through his teenage years, Crawford said.
“In many ways, his actions are a mirror for what he went through,” Crawford told the judge. “He’s a human being. He’s an individual. He doesn’t deserve to be thrown away.”
Bell’s parents spoke in court and told the judge they believed their son suffered from their divorce and what they described as his father’s drug abuse when Bell was a child. They said they believed he could be rehabilitated.
Before Grimm sentenced him, Bell spoke in a clear, booming voice as he told the judge that years of abuse affected him deeply. Bell spoke for only a few minutes, finishing with an apology.
“I didn’t love myself as a child. I thought it was impossible to change who I was,” Bell said. “I am extremely, extremely sorry for all my transgressions in this manner.”
Crawford said outside court that he thought the sentence was “high,” but he said he was pleased that the federal sentence would take precedent over the state proceedings and that the judge had recommended Bell be imprisoned at a federal facility in New Jersey where he can receive treatment.