|Former Pastor Gets Four-Year Sentence
By Cathy Smith
Santa Cruz Sentinel [California]
January 21, 2006
In a crowded courtroom heavy with emotion, a former pastor and Pajaro Valley school district employee was sentenced Friday to four years in prison for molesting a 14-year-old girl in late 1993 or early 1994.
Steven Montez Martinez, 49, of Watsonville faced a maximum five-year sentence after jurors convicted him last month of molesting the teen on four occasions. His attorney, J.J. Hamlyn, said he will be eligible for parole in two years.
There were tears on both sides of the courtroom, including from the victim's sister, a 28-year-old Watsonville woman who said she was also molested by Martinez as a teen member of his now-defunct New Jerusalem church. Because of child molestation and statute-of-limitations laws, he was charged with acts against one teen, yet two others testified of abuse that included what Martinez called "medical massages."
The victim's sister said she blamed herself at first, questioning, among other things, why he targeted her and why she hadn't been "smarter." But she said she has come to understand it was not her fault, despite how hard it was to believe "a man of God could hurt me so bad and cover it up so well."
Prosecutors say Martinez preyed on young, vulnerable girls, using his positions as a pastor and guidance counselor for the Pajaro Valley school district. He took three teens from school to molest them, prosecutor David Sherman said, calling it "a terrible case of exploitation." He said the sentence should both punish Martinez and send a message to deter others from committing similar crimes.
Martinez worked at several schools in the district from 1989 to 2004, including E.A. Hall Middle School and Aptos High. He is a past president of the Pajaro Valley Chapter of the California School Employees Association.
Judge Robert Atack denied giving Martinez probation, which several people pleaded for, including Martinez, his wife and a pastor at Green Valley Christian Church. Supporters said he was not a danger, but a benefit to them and the community. Martinez suffers from heart problems, lost a kidney to cancer and needs shoulder surgery, several people testified.
Hamlyn said Martinez was an extremely outgoing, assertive and intelligent man who had spent much of his life helping and guiding youth and adults.
But Atack cited Martinez's "defiance" during trial and said he never accepted full responsibility. He also cited the seriousness of the charges, the "great emotional injury" done to the victims and his abuse of positions of trust.
At trial, Martinez said perhaps the women had collaborated to obtain money or because of resentment over the strict doctrine he once preached.
But Friday, struggling for composure, he said he engaged in "improper behavior with minors 12 years ago" and said he stopped when he realized it was improper. He said he did not realize how deeply the women were hurt and never intended to harm them.
"... I'm very sorry," he said. "I hope the people I hurt can someday find it in their hearts to forgive me."
In a separate case, a woman accused Martinez of raping her in 1998, when she was 24 and living in Sacramento County. She had attended Martinez' church in the mid-1990s and lived with him and his ex-wife after moving to Watsonville from El Salvador, Sherman said.
Accepting an offer from prosecutors, Martinez pleaded no contest to a lesser charge of sexual battery in that case and got no extra prison time but he must register as a sex offender. He maintains his innocence in that case.
Contact Cathy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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