By Rayan Vatti, GSN Contributor
A former Gilbert Junior High softball coach has been ordered to serve six years in prison for having sex with a 14-year-old girl.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Warren Granville on Sept. 28 sentenced Jael Enrique Cerda, 24, who had previously pleaded guilty to two counts of attempted sexual conduct with a minor and two counts of sexual abuse. The plea agreement carried a minimum of a five-year sentence and a maximum of a 10-year sentence.
The victim’s family wanted the maximum sentence, the victim’s mother said.
“We sadly live in a world where people with bad feelings exist,” she told the judge through tears.
“There are people who go through life abusing the innocent and burning through the fragility of children,” she added. “Seeing my daughter suffer because of such a despicable person gives me pain. I am only comforted because I know nobody escapes justice.”
The victim’s mother told Granville that she still sees the effects of the sexual abuse on her daughter today, over a year after Cerda was arrested.
“My daughter has gone through a lot,” she said. “She fell into depression. She thought life had no meaning. She lost hope. She went from happy and confident to the opposite.”
Cerda’s family talked about his other side. His mother, Maylin Cerda, said that he was always a good-hearted, unselfish person. While she didn’t condone his actions, she said it was just one mistake.
“I was abused and fondled as a young girl by a family member,” Maylin Cerda said. “I absolutely do not condone what my son did. But one grave mistake does not define him. He is a good man.”
Cerda’s fiance Miranda Marquez said that he is a good person.
“Jael is the kindest, most loving man in the entire world,” Marquez said. “He made a terrible mistake. But even after what he did, I would marry him right now if I could. That’s how much I trust that something like this will never happen again.”
Marquez also emphasized that Cerda is a good father to their son and her daughter.
“He’s a great father,” Marquez said. “Not only to our 5-year-old son, but also to my daughter. He took her in and became the father she never had.”
Marquez said that she worries about the future of her kids without their father.
“The kids are the ones that suffer in all this,” Marquez said. “Adults can take it. But his children need him. They miss him so much. They ask for him every day.”
After the families finished speaking, Maricopa County Deputy Attorney Jeffrey Roseberry recommended a sentence of six years. He acknowledged that Cerda was cooperative throughout the entire process.
He also said that while he didn’t want to harm Cerda’s children, Cerda committed a serious crime against a defenseless minor.
“The defendant was in a position of trust,” Roseberry said. “He abused that trust.”
Roseberry also reminded Granville that the victim was “barely 14-years-old”, and now needs to undergo counseling for her depression.
“That’s a direct cause of his (Cerda’s) actions,” Roseberry said.
Both Cerda and his defense attorney, Brad Smith, argued for the minimum sentence of five years. Smith said that since Cerda is not a risk for future crimes and had a clean record prior to the incident, five years is harsh as is.
“Five years is a long time,” Smith said. “It’s a long time for his children to be without him.”
Cerda took full responsibility and repeatedly apologized to not only the victim and her parents, but to everyone who trusted him that he “let down.”
“I served in the United States Military, so I know I need to take responsibility for my actions,” Cerda said. “I am truly ashamed of myself, and I pray every night for forgiveness from God and the victim. But these actions do not define me. I promise that I will never be a problem for the state of Arizona again. I would rather die than put the people I love through this again.”
Cerda said that if he had a time machine, he would take it back in a heartbeat.
“I went to school for two years so I could be a teacher and help kids,” Cerda said. “I never wanted to cause harm.”
The judge said that he appreciated the sincerity of Cerda’s apology and could tell from the beginning that he had remorse. Granville also noted the importance of Cerda pleading guilty.
“There would have been much more pain for everyone if this had gone to trial and the victim had to testify,” Granville said.
Granville said he didn’t want to impose the minimum sentence because he didn’t want to send a message to other people in a position of power over kids that this was acceptable.
“It’s about deterrence, “Granville said.
In addition to his six-year prison sentence, 65 days of which he already served, Cerda will be on lifetime probation. He won’t be allowed to have any contact with the victim. He will also have to register as a sexual offender.
Granville said that Cerda would have to pay restitution to cover the counseling cost for the victim, although the amount will be decided on a later date.