Merced County prosecutors have filed felony charges against a 27-year-old Livingston High agriculture teacher accused of having a sexual relationship with one of her male students.
Melody Carter-McCabe faces a total of nine felony counts of unlawful sex with the boy, who was 15 years old when the nearly yearlong relationship began in September 2010, according to a Merced County sheriff's report.
The charges were filed Friday afternoon in Merced County Superior Court. The slender Merced resident and mother of a 6-year-old was expressionless as court bailiffs led her away in handcuffs. She pleaded not guilty to all of the charges. When the relationship began, the report says, Carter-McCabe was 25. The relationship allegedly lasted until August 2011.
Prosecutors say Carter-McCabe could spend up to 12 years in prison if convicted of all charges.
The Sheriff's Department launched its investigation in March after rumors began circulating at the school and staff notified law enforcement, said Chief Deputy District Attorney Rob Carroll.
According to the sheriff’s report, Carter-McCabe was the boy's mentor in Future Farmers of America. The prosecution maintains the friendship between the suspect and the boy eventually became sexual.
According to the sheriff’s report, the boy, who is now 17 years old, frequented the suspect's home and claimed they had sex more than 50 times.
Carroll said the evidence against Carter-McCabe includes photographs and various correspondence between the teacher and victim.
"It's extremely troubling because parents send their children to school, and they trust their child with educators," Carroll said. "I think 99.9 percent of educators do a fantastic and sometimes thankless job. It's unfortunate there are people ... like the defendant who give educators a bad name."
Jeffrey Tenenbaum, Carter-McCabe's attorney, said he's still reviewing reports in the case, and couldn't comment about the specific allegations. "Obviously she's having a very difficult time. This is her first time ever going to jail," he said.
According to the student's statements to sheriff's detectives, the interactions with the teacher were numerous and primarily took place at her residence. When the relationship started, the student had started "hanging out" at the defendant's house after school, doing yardwork, according to the sheriff’s report.
Over time, the boy developed "strong feelings" for the defendant, and eventually leaned in and kissed her while the two were doing yardwork together, according to the report. She told him "this will be the only time," and nothing else happened that day.
Two weeks later, however, they began kissing again, which led to a month of "making out." Around November 2010, she asked the boy whether he ever had sex before. He replied that he hadn't, and said that's when the relationship became sexual.
It came to an end, however, after the pair mutually agreed the age difference "made it impossible to be together," according to the report. She allegedly talked to the teen about maybe getting together in the future after he was older.
During his statements to detectives, the boy said the defendant had a purple vibrator, and she offered to allow him to use it on her. Detectives served search warrants at the defendant's home and found it wrapped in a white sock in the defendant's nightstand.
The boy was also able to describe to detectives certain features about the defendant's body, such as Japanese water symbol tattoo on her ankle. The teen also had pictures on his cell phone of a woman in her panties.
Detectives also found a series of love letters which may have been from the boy and handcuffs . Carroll said the boy and his family have been very cooperative with law enforcement and the prosecution. "He's a very sweet kid," Carroll said. "He's not in any way a bad kid at all."
Merced Union High School Superintendent Scott Scambray said he couldn't comment about the case, citing law enforcement's investigation. Carter-McCabe has worked at the school for about five or six years, and remains on paid administrative leave, pending the case's outcome.
Many Livingston High students said the illicit relationship was no secret on campus, even long before the sheriff's investigation began in March.
Carroll said it doesn't appear any administrators at the campus hid the allegations from law enforcement. Under the state’s mandatory reporting law, educators must report child abuse or neglect to law enforcement within 36 hours of receiving the information.
Friday's court hearing was contentious, as the defense attempted to convince the judge to allow Carter-McCabe to be released on her own recognizance -- a request the prosecution staunchly opposed.
Carter-McCabe hadn't been taken into custody prior to Friday. The Sheriff's Department submitted its investigative report to the district attorney's office in April, allowing the prosecution time to determine whether to file charges.
Judge Ronald Hansen denied Tenenbaum's request to free Carter-McCabe on her own recognizance, setting her bail at $250,000.
After the hearing, Tenenbaum pointed out that his client has no record, saying the bail was exorbitant. "We want to handle this responsibly. She's not a flight risk," Tenenbaum said.
Carter-McCabe’s next court hearing is scheduled for June 15.
City Editor Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.