By Shannon McFarland
A former karate teacher at the Sarasota School of Arts and Sciences was sentenced to 20 years in prison Tuesday for sexually abusing four girls at the school in 2005 and 2006.
John Garcia, 48, was an instructor at the Sarasota charter school when he was arrested last March. He pleaded no contest to two counts of sexual battery of a child by a person in custodial authority and two counts of lewd and lascivious molestation.
“I am sorry, though I know those words are not enough,” Garcia said while crying in court Tuesday, the sheriff’s office said.
Last spring, a girl had told authorities that Garcia had locked her in an empty classroom to have sex with her seven years earlier, when she was 14. After Garcia was charged with custodial sexual battery on a child, three more girls — then ages 12 and 13 — came forward to report past sexual abuse by Garcia.
Garcia was suspended from his job when he was arrested, and then resigned.
The first girl, now an adult, went to the sheriff’s office about Garcia after her family learned about the sexual assault when she tried to commit suicide by walking into traffic in January 2012, according to a lawsuit she has also filed against the school. The lawsuit alleges that Sarasota School of Arts and Sciences was negligent in hiring and supervising Garcia and did not do enough to protect students.
Initially, many people who knew Garcia were skeptical about the charges. But her testimony, and the three other girls who came forward, was also corroborated by a controlled phone call and incriminating text messages that would have come out during a trial.
Craig Schaeffer, the assistant state attorney in the case, said he commended all the victims, who are now adults, for having the courage to come forward and the sheriff’s office for investigating even while many people could not believe the charges.
“Hopefully, today’s plea and sentence will start to bring closure to the victims and the sentence sends a message to everybody that protecting our kids is paramount,” said Schaeffer said.
While a sentencing can bring closure for the victims and their families, Garcia’s attorney, Derek Byrd, said in cases like this, no one “leaves the courthouse feeling vindicated.”
“These cases in general are always tragic,” Byrd said. “Multiple lives are ruined. No one comes out a winner in this thing.”
Garcia’s friends and family — including two school-age stepchildren with his second wife who Garcia said he met after the incidents of abuse — will also have to live with the fallout, Byrd said.
“He was very well thought of and had a positive impact on the vast majority of the students he came into contact with,” he said.
In addition to the 20 years in prison Garcia was sentenced to five years of probation as a sexual predator. He will be listed on the national registry of sexual offenders and predators for the rest of his life.
This article was written by Shannon McFarland and originally published on heraldtribune