David E. Welsh tilted his head slightly, blinked and took a few breaths before answering Judge Mark F. Aceto, who asked the shackled ex-teacher if he molested a 9-year-old third-grader he taught during the 2000-01 school year in Mesa.
He finally whispered, "Yes."
By admitting his guilt Thursday, Welsh, 47, of Scottsdale now faces a prison sentence of 10 to 24 years.
Welsh also admitted to trying to molest two third-graders he taught in the Kyrene Elementary School District 21 years ago and to possessing child pornography.
He and the state agreed to lifetime probation for those offenses and 10 other charges were dismissed under a plea agreement Welsh signed.
Welsh, who last taught at Whitman Elementary School, was arrested in March on suspicion of molesting a student who had been in his thirdgrade class.
The indictment against Welsh alleged he molested the girl while she read in class, during a performance of "The Nutcracker," after volleyball practice and at a movie.
He told the girl’s mother in a secretly taped conversation that the girl was special to him because she reminded him of his daughter.
He admitted touching the girl but said it was not sexual.
"It was my feelings for her and my want for good things for her," he said.
The conversation could not be used at trial because the prosecutor agreed with defense claims that his statements were elicited illegally.
Former Kyrene Superintendent Ben Furlong told the Tribune shortly after Welsh’s arrest that he forced the teacher to resign in 1981 after a third-grader accused the teacher of molesting her, but police were not called.
Furlong could be charged with a misdemeanor for not reporting the abuse, a prosecutor has said.
Welsh was charged with molesting that girl and another one from his days in the Kyrene district.
Sentencing is set for March 21.