After listening to two weeks of testimony from myriad witnesses, jurors in the Peter Jeschke case called in their verdicts on Tuesday. They found Jeschke-a former Santa Barbara High School assistant tennis coach charged with giving drugs and alcohol to several teens on the team and having sex with one of them-guilty of seven of the 11 counts he was charged with and not guilty of two. The jury was unable to reach a verdict on two of the most serious drug-related counts. Jeschke was convicted of all of the sex crime charges, which included sexual penetration by a foreign object with a minor, three counts of oral copulation with a minor, and two counts of sex with a minor more than three years younger than himself.
As the jury foreman was reading the verdicts for each charge, Jeschke looked at the floor, an expression of defeat on his face. The jury ultimately found Jeschke guilty on one count of furnishing marijuana to a minor and another count guilty of a lesser offense-misdemeanor possession of marijuana. The jury also found him not guilty of administering an intoxicating substance to a minor for the purpose of committing a felony. The two counts on which the jury was divided-supplying cocaine and ecstasy to a minor-carried the most potential jail time of all the crimes he was charged with; and although he was not found guilty, Jeschke could stand trial again for the counts if the district attorney decides to retry them. With the current guilty verdicts in, Jeschke, who is being held without bail at the Santa Barbara County Jail, faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in state prison. “I thought this was a victory for the children of Santa barbara County. If they come forward [in cases like this] we can bring them justice,” said Senior Deputy District Attorney Joyce Dudley.
Aside from the testimony offered by the teen that Jeschke was convicted of having sex with, the only other evidence presented in court relating to the cocaine and ecstasy charges was a diary that the girl had written. According to her testimony, there had been two diaries at some point, but she had destroyed one of them to protect Jeschke. “We were divided on [the cocaine and ecstasy charges] because many of the jurors were conflicted over the diary we had,” said one of the jurors after the trial’s conclusion. He said that the recordings of the pretext calls-telephone calls set up by police in an attempt to get Jeschke to own up to accusations against him-were the linchpin in the jury’s decision to convict him of the sex-related crimes.
Having honed in on discrepancies between police interviews and testimony given by several of the teen witnesses, defense attorney Lara Yeretsian maintained her position that bringing in so many teens to testify was unnecessary and stressful to the teens. “The verdict goes to show you that this case was overcharged from day one,” she said, offering that if her client had been convicted of the cocaine and ecstasy charges, his potential jail time could have been up to 20 years. “I think the jury spoke loud and clear on the drug counts,” she said, referring to the split over the two counts. On each one, seven jurors said he was guilty, and five said he was not. “I hope that the DA’s office moves on instead of dragging in all of these kids again.”
In addition to the convictions she secured on Tuesday, Dudley indicated that she plans to file three new charges of witness intimidation to address the allegations that Jeschke sent threatening messages to three teen witnesses on the eve of trial. One of Jeschke’s former players, now a 19-year-old UCLA student, testified that Jeschke had asked her to contact the teen girl Jeschke had sex with and two other witnesses, urging them to change their stories or not testify. The 19-year-old said that although she resisted his entreaties at first, she eventually agreed to create a fake Facebook account, using it to send the threatening messages to three teen witnesses, who are still in high school. She was arrested at UCLA, and testified for prosecutors in exchange for immunity. If Jeschke is convicted of any of the intimidation charges, they will count as a “strike” in California’s repeat offender law, which would significantly increase his current sentence.
Yeretsian said it is not yet clear whether Jeschke will appeal, although Dudley indicated that most recent convicts do. He is scheduled to be in court again on May 27 regarding the two drug counts-on which Judge Frank Ochoa declared mistrials-and again on June 24 for sentencing.