SAN DIEGO — A former San Diego High School teacher who sexually and physically assaulted an underage student for more than a year and threatened to dismember her if she told anyone about the abuse was sentenced Wednesday to 10 years in state prison.
Juan Carlos Herrera, formerly a special needs curriculum instructor, pleaded guilty last month to 11 felonies, including lewd acts on a child and assault.
Herrera, 49, assaulted the unnamed victim “on almost a daily basis” between February 2018 and March of this year, when the girl was 15 and 16 years old, according to Deputy District Attorney Jessica Coto. She attended San Diego High School but was not in the special needs program and was not one of Herrera’s students.
His plea agreement includes lifetime registration as a sex offender and a strike offense for his plea to dissuading a witness. Prosecutors said Herrera’s actions included threatening to cut off the victim’s arms and legs if she told anyone what was going on, choking her and throwing her on the ground, in addition to the ongoing sexual abuse.
An investigation began earlier this year, when the victim’s mother reported finding suspicious and concerning text messages from Herrera on her daughter’s cellphone, SDPD Lt. Carole Beason said.
The girl and her family members were not present at the sentencing hearing, but two letters from the victim’s mother and grandmother were read to the court.
Jane Doe’s mother called Herrera “a predatory pedophile who used his position as an educator to commit sexual crimes against my daughter” and wrote that his crimes had wrought indescribable pain upon her daughter and the family.
“You deserve no mercy. No amount of incarceration can ever make up for the atrocities that you committed upon my beautiful girl, my innocent, kind daughter,” she wrote. “There’s much more that I can say to you, but you are not worth it.”
The victim’s grandmother wrote that she had noticed something had changed in the girl, but could not have imagined what was behind it. She said Herrera was a “soulless, heartless and inhumane perverted pedophile who took advantage of his position as a teacher” and apologized to her granddaughter “for not realizing what you were going through.”
San Diego Superior Court Judge Polly H. Shamoon said she was “disgusted” by comments noted in Herrera’s probation report, in which he alleged the girl came on to him.
Herrera elected to address the court, saying he was “disgusted with myself” and called his actions “monstrous” and “atrocious.”
Herrera began his statement by begging the girl and her family for forgiveness, but was shut down by Shamoon, who told him “They’re not going to forgive you; go on from there.”
He also said he was sorry if his statement came off like he was blaming the victim, telling the judge, “I am responsible, for I am the adult.”
Shamoon, quoting a litany of lewd comments Herrera made to the girl, wasn’t convinced of his remorse. His alleged disgust with himself “is not something the court believes,” she said.