‘I’m hooking up with a 14-year-old.’ Fresno teacher’s recorded statements played for jury

Former Tenaya Middle School teacher Justine Nelson, 33, seen in a 2017 photo. Nelson is on trial for two felony charges involving sexual contact with a student.
Former Tenaya Middle School teacher Justine Nelson, 33, seen in a 2017 photo. Nelson is on trial for two felony charges involving sexual contact with a student. plopez@fresnobee.com

When detectives first told former Tenaya Middle School teacher Justine Karen Nelson that she was being accused of giving one of her students oral sex, she was shocked and broke out in tears.

She worried about her job, her marriage, and her child. Nelson, a popular teacher, denied ever touching a student, let alone committing a sex act on him.

“That’s seriously disgusting,” she told police during a taped interview that was played in court Tuesday.

Nelson, 33, is on trial for an incident that allegedly took place in 2016 inside her classroom. She is charged with felony lewd or lascivious acts with a minor and oral copulation.

Justine Nelson Fresno County Sheriff's Office

Fresno police sex crimes detectives Sylvia Martinez and Derek Avila interviewed Nelson at her school in 2016. Portions of a two hour recorded interview were played for the jury.

Detectives told Nelson she was being questioned because a former student accused her of giving him oral sex several times while he was a student at Tenaya. Police said they were also looking into whether she sent semi-nude photos to two former students.

Detectives asked Nelson point blank if the rumors were true. Reacting with disbelief, she said: “Are you kidding me? No, never, my God, never, ever.”

But as detectives continued questioning her, and also challenging her truthfulness, her answers began tell a different story.

She admitted to giving the student oral sex two to three times, but only after he coerced her. At first, she said he forced her to do it, but she later clarified that he manipulated her.

The student, who testified last week, said he did not coerce or manipulate her. During his testimony, he admitted to having a relationship with Nelson.

During the police interview, Nelson told detectives the student threatened to spread rumors about her if she did not consent.

She agreed to do it, but only out of fear, she said. She also admitted to sending him and another former student semi-nude photos of herself.

Nelson, who had aspirations of being an administrator, began to cry in court as she listened to the interview.

As detectives wrapped up their interview with her, she was escorted from the campus into a unmarked police car to be transported to the Fresno County Jail.

But what Nelson didn’t realize is that detectives were not done gathering information. As they talked in the car, their conversation was being secretly recorded. Nelson began to speak more casually about her fear of going to jail, being a felon and her unhappy home life.

Avila told Nelson that she deserved better.

Nelson said she probably didn’t.

“Look at me, I’m hooking up with a 14-year-old,” she said in the recording. Prosecutors have said the teen was 13 when the incidents happened.

Nelson also sounded relieved that her relationship with the student was finally exposed.

“I knew this day was coming,” she said. “I was literally praying, give me consequences or let it go.”

Nelson, who is being defended by Roger Nuttall, is expected to testify Thursday or Friday. The trial continues Wednesday in Judge Kristi Culver Kapetan’s court room.

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