A Santa Monica man who was a former English teacher at the prestigious Marlborough School in Hancock Park pleaded guilty today to having sexual relationships with two students, one of whom got pregnant, and was sentenced to one year in jail and five years probation.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert C. Vanderet ordered Joseph Thomas Koetters, 48, to complete a 52-week sex offender therapy course and to register for life as a sex offender.
The judge also barred Koetters from having any contact with the two women, who are now in their 30s; teaching in any capacity; and being alone with any minor females other than his daughter.
Koetters was sentenced immediately after entering his plea to four felony counts — two counts each of oral copulation of a person under 18 and sexual penetration by a foreign object of a person under 18 — involving crimes between 2000 and 2004.
He had been facing 14 felony counts that could have resulted in more than 11 years in prison had he gone to trial and been convicted.
One of the women told the judge that Koetters — then her 11th-grade English teacher at Marlborough — “systematically lured me into a yearlong sexual relationship” in 2000.
“Over the course of several months, Mr. Koetters succeeded in convincing me that I was different, that our bond was special, that we owed it to ourselves as humans to ignore society’s norms and take things to the next level,” she said.
The victim, who was identified in court only as “Jane Doe 1,” said the relationship eventually “imploded,” and she found out she was pregnant in a dirty restroom at a fast-food restaurant.
“I next remember sitting at the base of the staircase in Mr. Koetters’ house, in shock and shaking violently. His reaction broke me. In his view, it was a foregone conclusion that I’d get an abortion,” she said. “I clung to him for whatever minimal assurance he provided, but was suffocating on the inside.”
She ultimately miscarried, “alone, terrified and in excruciating pain,” and the relationship ended, leaving her shattered and with an “intense hatred for myself that haunts me to this day.”
She said she had “never planned to come forward with my story,” but seeing an essay written about Koetters “triggered in me an unrelenting drive to protect other girls at all costs.”
She said the conclusion of the court case “isn’t an ending at all” for her.
“I would be remiss if I tried to frame the situation as anything other than what it is for me. It is raw. It is hideous. It is agonizing. And I will live with it for the rest of my life.”
The judge told her, “I’m so sorry for the hell you’ve gone through.”
Deputy District Attorney Mara McIlvain read a written statement from the other victim, who said she spent years of her life not talking about what had happened to her between February and June 2004.
“I told no one, not one person, for over a decade. It was just at the beginning of this year that I was able to gather the courage to share this for the first time,” she said. “A criminal case had finally been raised against Mr. Koetters and I struggled with what to do.
“I had always told myself that if it came to this I would not be silent. I wanted more than anything for him to be brought to justice so I forced myself to speak up, and I am so grateful that I did.”
“Jane Doe 2” said “years of hiding this secret wore me down and completely crushed my sense of self-worth.”
“Mr. Koetters invested a lot of time in convincing me that what he was doing was a mutual decision, and I internalized that,” she said. “For all those years I felt an overwhelming amount of guilt for what I believed I had done. I was completely filled with shame and feelings of worthlessness. I thought over and over, ‘What kind of girl would do something so selfish?’ I genuinely believed that I was a bad person.”
She said she now realizes her fear of being hated and shamed if she came forward was entirely unjustified.
“I now know with certainty that that relationship was never a mutual decision. It’s clear to me how I was manipulated … that I was a naive 16-year- old girl that was taken advantage of by an experienced predator.”
Outside court, defense attorney Leonard Levine said, “By his entry of guilty pleas to those charges, he has accepted full responsibility for his actions. But in light of the fact that there is pending civil litigation, that’s all I can say at this time.”
Attorney David Ring — who is representing the two women — told reporters: “We know that Marlborough School received multiple complaints about Mr. Koetters over the years and shrugged them off because he was their star professor, their star English teacher, and … nothing like that could ever happen at Marlborough.”
He alleged that Koetters negotiated an “exit strategy” with Marlborough that included “good recommendations” for him to move to Polytechnic School in Pasadena, where he taught for a year.
“He is nothing short of someone who used his position of power as a teacher at a very prestigious school to target underage girls for his own gain, and today you’ve heard the emotional harm that these two women experienced,” Ring said.
He noted that one lawsuit has been brought on behalf of one of the women and another will be filed within a few days.
Koetters is set to surrender Nov. 13 to begin serving his county jail term.