Convicted child molester Jesus Colmenero Rivera was sentenced Friday to four years, eight months in prison, signaling what likely is the final chapter in the former Golden Valley High School teacher’s legal saga.
Because of Rivera’s credit for time served in jail, his sentence means he will probably spend a maximum of three years, one month in prison, according to his attorneys.
The 46-year-old former Spanish and drama teacher was convicted in November on six of nine counts of child molestation. He was arrested four years ago by Merced police after five students came forward with accusations ranging from fondling to oral copulation.
Dressed in a gray jailhouse jumpsuit, Rivera slowly shook his head as Deputy District Attorney David Sandhaus called him a dangerous and remorseless sexual predator.
“The defendant preyed on the young, the needy and the vulnerable for pure sexual gratification,” Sandhaus said. “He abused the position of trust and authority as a school teacher to find children for sex. He is a dangerous and unrepentant predator and child molester.”
One of Rivera’s accusers, who is now 22 years old, also spoke during the hearing, saying that he forgives Rivera. He also said, however, that Rivera has a predatory addiction that “steals from the souls of the innocent youth.”
A father of one of the victims also spoke during the hearing, saying he felt as if a “ton of bricks” had fallen on him after his son told him of the abuse. “Golden Valley is going to miss a great teacher — too bad he had a dark side,” the man said.
Merced Superior Court Judge Ronald Hansen also dismissed a defense motion for a mistrial during the sentencing hearing. The defense had previously made allegations of jury misconduct. “I think this jury got it right,” Hansen said. “It restores my faith in the jury system.”
Defense attorney Woodrow Nichols said he is unsure whether his client will request an appeal in the case. Nichols said he believed Hansen’s sentence was a fair one, considering that his client was facing a maximum of six years in prison after he was convicted.
“Under the circumstances, I can’t complain,” Nichols said. “It was his word against the other words, and the jury believed the victims’.”
Sandhaus said the judge’s sentence does give “an amount of justice” to the victims. “I think the victims in the case, and probably the jury — they are relieved it’s finally over and justice was done,” Sandhaus said.
Members of Rivera’s family sat quietly through much of the hearing, although some of them yelled “we love you” as he was led out of the courtroom. Rivera’s family continues to maintain that he is an innocent man who has been unjustly accused of a ghastly crime.
“We have always believed in our brother and know lots of facts that haven’t been presented,” said Vira Colmenero, 50, Rivera’s sister. “We’re going to stay proud, and our love for him is not shaken and our sense of belief in his innocence is not shaken.”
Hansen said several members of Rivera’s church also submitted a signed petition to the court supporting him, asking the judge to consider previous acts of kindness Rivera had committed for the needy, sick, and elderly.
“We know our brother. He’s a beautiful, beautiful man. And he’s done a lot for a lot of people. That’s why all of those people came forward,” said Yolanda Colmenero, 48, Rivera’s sister.
The jury found Rivera guilty on one felony count of oral copulation with a person under age 18 and four felony counts of lewd or lascivious acts on a 14- or 15-year-old child. He also was found guilty of a misdemeanor count of annoying or molesting a child for biting one of the victims on the toe.
Jurors were not able to come to a unanimous decision on three of the most serious charges, which involved sexual battery, sexual penetration with force, fear or threat and penetration with a foreign object. If he would have been convicted of those charges, Rivera could have been sentenced up to 14 years behind bars.
Rivera worked at Golden Valley High until January 2004, when a student reported abuse to school administrators and police. Four other students later stepped forward with additional allegations. The victims were all between 14- and 17-years old at the time the crimes occurred between 2001 and 2004.
Rivera will have to register as a convicted sex offender after his release from prison.