Ex-Marlborough School teacher admits sexually abusing students

Joseph Thomas Koetters, right, the former Marlborough School teacher accused of having sex with two students, is sentenced in Los Angeles court.

Joseph Thomas Koetters, right, the former Marlborough School teacher accused of having sex with two students, is sentenced in Los Angeles court.

(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

For a year, her high school English teacher convinced her that she shared a special bond with him.

They owed it to themselves, he told her, to “ignore society’s norms” and take their relationship to another level.

She was 16 when she realized she was pregnant — a student at one of Los Angeles’ most prestigious private schools.


Now 31, the woman recalled in court Wednesday how Joseph Thomas Koetters, a respected teacher at Marlborough School, lured her into having sex with him, resulting in a miscarriage and years of mental trauma.

“I developed an intense hatred for myself that haunts me to this day,” she said.

The woman spoke shortly before Koetters, 48, was sentenced to a year in jail on charges that he engaged in sex acts with her and another 16-year-old girl more than a decade ago, closing a chapter in a seedy, high-profile abuse scandal that has rocked the elite private Hancock Park school. Koetters was accused of abusing one student in 2000 and another in 2004.

I am so sorry for the hell you’ve gone through.

— Superior Court Judge Robert C. Vanderet

The first victim noted in court during Wednesday’s sentencing hearing that the criminal case was coming to an end for investigators and journalists who have examined the allegations against Koetters.

“For me, this isn’t an ending at all,” she said. “I would be remiss if I tried to frame the situation as anything other than what it is for me: It is raw. It is hideous. It is agonizing. And I will live with it for the rest of my life.”

She said she was at first uncomfortable with and even scared of what her teacher wanted, saying she “both admired him and was intimidated by him.” As she spent more time with Koetters, she said, she spent less with her friends and on her studies.


“Eventually, it all imploded. I found out I was pregnant in a dirty Carl’s Jr. bathroom. I next remember sitting at the base of the staircase in Mr. Koetters’ house, in shock and shaking violently,” she said. “His reaction broke me. In his view, it was a foregone conclusion that I’d get an abortion.”

The woman, identified in court only as Jane Doe, said she miscarried “alone, terrified and in excruciating pain.”

She said she was shattered and suffered from severe bulimia for seven years. She said she tried to kill herself while in college.

As she spoke, Koetters stood a few feet away, repeatedly dropping his gaze. He said nothing.

Superior Court Judge Robert C. Vanderet told the woman, “I am so sorry for the hell you’ve gone through.”

Deputy Dist. Atty. Mara McIlvain read a statement from the second victim, who said the criminal charges had finally released her of guilty feelings she had harbored over the years.

“I was a naive 16 year old girl that was taken advantage of by an experienced predator,” her statement said. “My goal in this has always been that Mr. Koetters pay for his actions. I remember how self-assured he was that he would never be caught, and the arrogance of that still enrages me.”

Marlborough investigates former teacher

Koetters was charged with 14 sex abuse counts and faced up to 11 years behind bars. As part of a deal with prosecutors, he pleaded guilty Wednesday to four counts.

He will be required to register as a sex offender and complete at least one year of sex offender therapy. In addition, he was placed on five years of probation, during which he is barred from teaching or being with any female minor under the age of 18, except his daughter.

He is scheduled to turn himself in to begin serving his jail sentence Nov. 13.

Leonard Levine, Koetters’ attorney, said his client’s plea showed he was taking “full responsibility for his actions.”

A district attorney’s spokeswoman said the plea deal “spared the victims from having to testify.”

David Ring, an attorney representing both victims, said the women “feel that justice was served.”

“Obviously they’d like him to spend more time in jail,” Ring said. “But he is a registered sex offender for life, and he cannot teach or be around young girls.”

The woman who had a miscarriage has filed a lawsuit alleging the school ignored allegations of sexual misconduct by Koetters.

Koetters worked at Marlborough School for more than a decade and then briefly at Polytechnic School in Pasadena. The sex abuse allegations first became public last year after another former Marlborough student wrote an essay in the online magazine XoJane that said Koetters had made sexual advances toward her.

Last year, a team commissioned by Marlborough’s board investigated allegations against Koetters and concluded that there was a “pattern of misconduct” by the teacher and “mistakes in judgment” by top school officials.

In November, the school’s chief administrator, Barbara Wagner, announced she would step down. Wagner, according to the school investigation, did not fully investigate allegations against Koetters.

For more crime and courts news, follow @lacrimes.


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