Wearing a jail jumpsuit and shackles, former Fresno High School teacher Darren Klassen was sentenced Monday to five years and eight months in prison for having an illicit sexual affair with a student.
Klassen declined to comment at his sentencing hearing in Fresno County Superior Court, but his victim, now 18 and since graduated from Fresno High, said she was no longer angry at him or the anonymous people who used the Internet to say horrible things about her.
The victim was identified in court only as Jane Doe. (The Bee’s policy is to not identify victims of sexual abuse.)
Standing only a few feet from Klassen, the victim told Judge Brian Alvarez: “The weight will always be there. But every day it gets lighter.”
The weight will always be there. But every day it gets lighter.
Jane Doe, victim of Darren Klassen
She then said she hoped that everyone affected by the case will one day feel the same relief, “including Darren Klassen.”
Her parents, however, had harsh words for Klassen. They also accused Fresno High employees of knowing about the illicit affair, but doing nothing to stop it.
In a letter to the judge, the parents said Klassen, an English teacher and local rock musician, would paint his fingernails black, show off his multiple piercings and act cool among impressionable, young students. “He was weaving a web around countless young children,” their letter said.
They then said they often wondered how Klassen was allowed to lock his classroom and turn off the lights with the victim inside with him.
Klassen has acted remorseful only because he got caught, their letter said.
“He robbed this young lady of her innocence,” their letter said. “He destroyed her right to explore normal human relationships.”
Calling Klassen a predator, the parents said his prison sentence was a joke.
Klassen initially was charged with 37 felony counts of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor, oral copulation, sexual penetration and a lewd act with a minor. As part of a plea agreement in April this year, Klassen pleaded no contest to five felony counts and agreed to spend five years and eight months in prison and register as a sex offender for life.
We send our children to school and entrust (teachers) to nourish their minds, not exploit them.
Judge Brian Alvarez
In announcing the punishment, Alvarez told Klassen that he violated the community’s trust and said his behavior was not an isolated incident, “but an ongoing activity.”
“We send our children to school and entrust (teachers) to nourish their minds, not exploit them,” Alvarez said.
A Fresno police detective’s affidavit says the Fresno High girl began having a relationship with Klassen when she was a 15-year-old freshman. Shortly after she turned 16 in November 2013, she started having sex with Klassen, the affidavit says. She said the first encounter was in his classroom. She told detectives it was the first time she had sexual relations with anyone.
The affair then escalated to having sex with Klassen three to five days a week in the 2014-15 school year, the girl told detectives.
The girl told police that during the relationship she sent hundreds of sexually provocative photographs of herself to Klassen via text messages. At the direction of a detective, the girl called Klassen, who admitted in the recorded telephone call to having sex with the girl.
Court records say Klassen also had an inappropriate relationship with an 18-year-old student at Madera South High, where he taught for more than a decade before coming to Fresno High. Klassen ended up marrying the Madera South student and has two children with her. Court records say his wife filed for divorce in October and has sole custody of their children.
Klassen’s crime resulted in a civil lawsuit against Fresno Unified School District. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the victim, alleges the sexual abuse/molestation occurred for more than two years from January 2013 until September last year, when Klassen was arrested after the girl’s parents told Fresno police. The victim is seeking unspecified damages for alleged negligence, sexual battery, negligent supervision of Klassen, sexual harassment and sexual misconduct by Klassen.
In court Monday, Klassen did not look at the victim as she spoke to the judge. But once the hearing was over, he and the victim looked at each other for a brief moment before she left the courtroom with her parents.
Outside court, Fresno defense lawyer Roger Nuttall, who represented Klassen, said the sentence was fair, considering that Klassen faced a “significant amount of time in prison” if convicted of the 37 felony charges. “He is very sorry for the pain he had caused he victim and her family, as well the pain to his own family,” Nuttall said.