A former Sanger High School teacher pleaded no contest Friday to sexually assaulting a 17-year-old girl inside his restaurant in November 2011.
With the victim and her family watching, Sergio Heredia entered his plea in Fresno County Superior Court to felony charges of sexual battery and unlawful sex with a person under 18 years old.
In a plea agreement, Heredia faces up to four years behind bars. He also must register as a sex offender and waive his right to appeal.
Judge James Petrucelli allowed Heredia to remain free on $100,000 bail until his sentencing on April 21.
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Heredia entered his plea on the day his jury trial was scheduled to begin.
Outside court, Heredia’s lawyer, Robert Wynne, said his 53-year-old client didn’t rape the girl; he said Heredia had consensual sex with the teen.
She is a credible witness. But let’s be clear – there was no force or violence.
Fresno defense lawyer Robert Wynne
But Wynne said Heredia accepted responsibility because he wanted to spare the victim and her sister from testifying. Heredia also faced an uphill battle since it is against the law to have sex with a person under 18, Wynne said.
“She is a credible witness,” Wynne said of the victim. “But let’s be clear – there was no force or violence.”
If Heredia had been convicted at trial, he would have faced more than 10 years in prison.
Heredia taught social studies at Sanger High for about 10 years and had been employed by the district for at least 13 years, school officials said at the time of his arrest in November 2011.
Prosecutors contend the girl told Heredia several times that she didn’t want to have sex and tried to push him away, but he overpowered her.
Prosecutors contend the girl told Heredia several times that she didn’t want to have sex and tried to push him away, but he overpowered her. The girl is about 5-foot-3 and 130 pounds. Heredia, an Army veteran, is 5-foot-11 and 215 pounds, court records show.
At a hearing in June 2014, Sanger police detective Ramiro Garza testified that the girl was not a student of Heredia’s but had worked at his Sports Bistro on O Street as a waitress for about a week before the assault. In graphic detail, Garza described how Heredia assaulted the crying girl on a pool table during the evening hours of Nov. 21, 2011.
After the assault, Garza said the girl told him that she cleaned up in the restroom. She remained at the business until around 10 p.m. when her older sister picked her up. The girl and her sister then drove to the police station and reported the incident around 11 that night, Garza said.
Wynne said the girl told police that she kissed Heredia and kept playing pool with him after he first touched her private areas. He said the restaurant also was open for business and the girl was free to leave at any time.
Heredia was fired from the Sanger Unified School District and the Sports Bistro closed after his arrest.