Admitting wrongdoing from the start, Matthew Pena pleaded no contest Wednesday to a felony charge of having sex with an underage student while he was a teacher at Clovis High School.
With his parents in the courtroom, Pena, 32, told Fresno County Superior Court Judge Jonathan Skiles he would waive his right to a trial, his right to confront his accuser and his right not to incriminate himself.
Pena, who is married with two children, said he was ready to be held accountable for having sex with a 17-year-old girl.
Under a plea agreement, Pena could be sentenced to up to three years in jail, but could instead receive only probation because he has no criminal record and he admitted wrongdoing at an early stage, said attorney Michael Idiart, who represents Pena.
In exchange for his plea, prosecutor Elana Landau dismissed three felony charges of sex with a minor and oral copulation.
Pena will be sentenced July 28. Until then, he remains free on bail.
Outside court, Idiart said Pena never wanted to contest the charges. “The evidence is not in dispute,” Idiart said, because “when confronted by Clovis Unified administrators he immediately resigned and then he confessed to police.”
Though the student was nearly 18, the legal age to consent to sex, Idiart wanted to make it clear the girl is a victim.
“He’s accepting responsibility for what he did because he knows he exercised poor judgment,” Idiart said. “He violated the student-teacher relationship. He is clearly the person at fault.”
The plea came after long discussions between Idiart and Landau. It will be up to the judge to determine the punishment. “Nothing was promised,” Idiart said.
Pena taught photography at Clovis High and coached golf and baseball. He played collegiate baseball as a pitcher at University of the Pacific. As a student at Buchanan High, he was a Bee All-Star baseball player in 2000.
His encounters with the 17-year-old student happened between October and December 2014, court records say. He was arrested in January.
Court records say the student, who turned 18 in December, is identified as a victim in a criminal case involving former Clovis High employee Dwayne Andrews. The former walk-on football coach and substitute teacher is charged with four felony counts of sex with a minor between May and August 2014. The girl told police she was romantically involved with Andrews from November 2013 to November of last year, but didn’t start having sex with him until May.
Andrews has pleaded not guilty. His next court hearing is June 17. Andrews is free on bail.
Affidavits say the girl told police she was in love with Pena, had his name tattooed on her side and wanted to have his baby.
The girl, who has not been identified, also told police she had a romantic relationship with Andrews, whom she called “daddy,” the affidavits say.
The girl had sex with Pena and Andrews at their homes. The student said she first had sex with Pena off campus during a lunch break. She also told investigators she had sex with Pena when she lived temporarily with him, his pregnant wife and his young daughter.
Outside court Wednesday, Idiart said he read the 120-page interview the girl had with police. According to Idiart, she told police she pursued Pena and that the sex was consensual. “But that doesn’t excuse him and he knows it,” Idiart said.
In accepting the plea agreement, Idiart said, Pena is fortunate to have a wife “who stands by him” and parents who support him.
“They have been to all the hearings,” Idiart said, noting that Pena’s wife was in court Wednesday morning but could not be there when her husband announced his plea.