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Teacher Admits Abducting and Seducing 15-Year-Old

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Tanya Joan Hadden, the former San Bernardino teacher who fell in love with a student less than half her age, then embarked on an ill-fated road trip with him to Las Vegas, pleaded guilty to three felonies Thursday to eliminate the threat of a life prison sentence.

Hadden, 33, had faced 19 criminal charges in Nevada; she pleaded guilty to having sex with a student, statutory sexual seduction and second-degree kidnapping. She still faces up to 25 years in prison, but plans to appeal for a suspended sentence and probation when she is sentenced in September before Clark County Superior Court Judge Joseph Bonaventure.

Hadden also faces a second round of charges back home in San Bernardino, and could be sentenced to more than nine years in prison if convicted on those allegations.

Both sides said they had their reasons for entering into the plea arrangement in Nevada.

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Prosecutors were wary of forcing the student, 15-year-old Richard Pena, to recount his affections and his affair in what surely would have been a lurid trial, said Clark County Deputy Dist. Atty Lisa Luzaich. The prosecutor added that authorities were pleased Hadden was forced to sign a plea agreement acknowledging wrongdoing.

“I’m glad the family won’t have to go through a trial,” Luzaich said. “I’m glad she admitted what she did and that she will be punished for what she did to that family.”

Hadden’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Jordan Savage, said the former teacher was forced to plead guilty by overzealous prosecutors. Caught in the spotlight of a case that has generated nationwide attention, Savage said, the prosecutors brought heavy-handed charges and threatened to send the former teacher to prison for life.

“This has always been a case of proportionality. It’s not that she’s innocent of everything,” Savage said. “She has always understood the impropriety of having a relationship with her student and of having sex with her student.”

“The question is, where does this belong on the scale of justice?

Hadden, who was in her second year as a teacher, first met Pena last year while he was earning an “A” in her science class at Cajon High School in San Bernardino.

Initially, she has said in interviews, nothing untoward happened. But they soon discovered an uncommon bond, she has said, forged over shared interests--in punk rock music and good conversation.

Eventually, Hadden said, she fell in love with her student.

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And, her attorney conceded Thursday, she had sexual relations with him.

In April, police began investigating reports that Hadden may have purchased alcohol for Pena and another student at a party. In a Times interview Hadden has said Pena, afraid that his parents would find out, panicked and asked her to take him for a drive. They wound up in Las Vegas, at Pena’s suggestion, she said.

Authorities finally tracked them down in a hotel on the Strip several nights later. They were wearing the same clothes they had left in and were running low on cash.

Hadden was fired from her teaching job. She has told friends that she would like to go back to graduate school to earn a degree in science and, potentially, work in research. She has no interest in teaching again, her attorney has said.

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Luzaich said the case clearly warrants punishment more severe than probation.

“I want to see her go to prison,” the Nevada prosecutor said. “It’s over and above just having sex with a 15-year-old, which, in and of itself, is horrible. But to take a 15-year-old to Las Vegas.... His parents didn’t even know if he was alive or dead for four days.”

In San Bernardino County, Hadden does not have a trial date yet.

The prosecutor there, Deputy Dist. Atty. Verna Carey, said she would not accept probation for Hadden either, even if a second plea bargain was reached.

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Hadden is accused in San Bernardino County of nine criminal charges, including four counts of statutory rape, which is a felony.

“My office believes this is a state prison case,” Carey said. “Her conduct was egregious in taking a child across state lines. She had a position of trust, and violated that trust in the worst way.”


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