Crime & Punishment: Tennis seems like such a clean, nonviolent sport. You watch your 16-year-old daughter or granddaughter pick up a racket, knowing that no one is going to tackle her, knock her flat when she goes up for a rebound, or aim a fastball at her head.
You’d don’t expect that her 34-year-old coach will ply her with drugs and have unprotected sex with her. Or that, as is still alleged, after being charged he would get a former team member to send the girl and other teen witnesses threatening messages, urging them not to testify honestly or not to testify at all.
Or that after a jury convicted him a judge would put him on probation for five years instead of behind bars, as Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Frank Ochoa did November 16 with Peter Jeschke, now 36, a former assistant tennis coach at Santa Barbara High School. The Probation Department, however, considered him a “marginal candidate” for probation and recommended seven years and eight months in prison.
In urging prison time, Senior Deputy District Attorney Joyce Dudley said, ” : he is truly the worst groomer-predator that I have ever prosecuted-I say that because he used his position of power (coach), control (18 years older than his victim), and status (he was a star tennis player) to give her drugs and sexually assault her, putting her in harm’s way both physically (driving) and medically (unprotected sex). He did so for his own pleasure-unconcerned about the irreversible damage he did to her, the male and female tennis team players,” as well as other students, faculty, and administration at the school and elsewhere in the county.
In granting probation, Judge Ochoa said what swayed him the most was a statement by the victim’s mother, who said, “For Peter, we think he has suffered much damage and rightfully so” and that her daughter feels that “she didn’t really want him to spend a lot of time in prison. My husband and I feel somewhat the same : We know he has a little boy, so we hope he can have an opportunity to be a loving father and provider.”
Officials say the five-year-old boy is living with and being supported by his mother. Jeschke said he is broke, jobless, and facing huge debts, including attorney fees. He was also on probation for a DUI in 2007 when the sex crimes occurred.
So Jeschke avoided hard time in prison on the conviction for having sex with and smoking dope with a minor, but he still faces possible time behind bars if convicted on the intimidation rap. This is serious stuff. Judges frown on people playing arrogant games with the justice system as though it was just some kind of freshman kangaroo court.
“In my 27 years on the bench, I haven’t ever had someone try to manipulate the process as Mr. Jeschke did,” Judge Ochoa said. Setting of a date for a preliminary hearing on that charge is scheduled before Superior Court Judge George Eskin on December 9.
One of Jeschke’s former players, now a 19-year-old UCLA student, testified that he 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 she initially resisted the idea, but eventually agreed to create a fake Facebook account and used it to send threatening messages to the three teens, who are still in high school.
This young woman is a student at one of California’s best universities? Well, she’s flunked ethics. Worse, when the word got out about her fakery, she was arrested. Prosecutors gave her immunity in return for her testimony at the trial. Her 18-year-old brother said Jeschke also called him, but he sensibly refused to cooperate.
I don’t know what kind of future is in store for the ex-coach. Judge Ochoa will decide on December 7 whether he must register as a sex offender. But Jeschke should know the kind of hell he left behind at Santa Barbara High.
A heavy burden is being borne by many, including a vulnerable young girl who reportedly is strong, has family support, and is moving on, headed for college and a tennis team there. One of her friends, who testified that Jeschke gave alcohol to her and other girls on the team, told of feeling betrayed by the coach.
After Jeschke’s conviction, prosecutor Dudley said: “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 to justice.”
One wonders what message is being whispered in the halls of the Santa Barbara Dons. A coach gives minor girls alcohol, plying one with marijuana and having illegal sex with her several times. Spends pre-trial time in jail, then walks away from any hard time, leaving chaos in his wake.
Jeschke was brought to justice and convicted, but was justice served?