Photo: 190129-news-plea

Michael Harbrook, seated, his Public Defender Caroline Smith, and Prosecutor Steve Briden wait for a judge's decision on a plea deal in Belknap County Superior Court last week.

LACONIA — On the third attempt, a judge has approved a plea deal that sent a former teacher accused of romancing a one-time student to prison for one to two years on Monday.

Michael Harbrook, 49, of Tilton, pleaded guilty to two counts of witness tampering in Belknap County Superior Court on the same day a jury was scheduled to be picked to hear his trial.

Judge James D. O’Neill III had twice rejected proposed plea deals that called for Harbrook to serve up to a year in the county jail, with an option for some of it to be served on administrative home confinement.

Under terms of the latest settlement brokered between Deputy Carroll County Attorney Steve Briden and public defender Caroline Smith, a second prison sentence of 2½ to 5 years will remain suspended on the condition of good behavior for seven years.

Additional terms of the sentence mandate that Harbrook have no contact with his victim, nor have any unsupervised contact with those under age 18, except his own children. A $2,480 fine and penalty assessment was also suspended on the condition of good behavior. Harbrook will remain on probation for two years following his release.

The state dismissed a falsifying physical evidence charge, as part of the latest negotiated settlement.

A former English teacher at Kingswood Regional High School in Wolfeboro, Harbrook confessed to having a sexual relationship with a former student when she was 16, the age of consent in New Hampshire.

When he sent a text message to the girl threatening suicide, she asked a friend to go to the school and check on him. That friend called Wolfeboro police, who stopped Harbrook’s car to conduct a welfare check. He admitted to having had an inappropriate relationship with the girl, resigned and surrendered his teaching certificate.

He was initially indicted for having four nude photos of the then 17-year-old girl, but the state dismissed those charges after determining it lacked the needed evidence to prove either sexual assault or possession of child sex abuse images.

During an earlier failed plea and sentencing hearing, the defense attorney told the judge that Harbrook had already been punished by losing his home and career and suffering the dissolution of a 24-year marriage.