Former teacher Danielle Matko tearfully begged a San Mateo County judge for leniency during her sentencing hearing for molesting two East Palo Alto boys on Friday afternoon. But Superior Court Judge Jonathan Karesh instead called her behavior "predatory" and said her actions took advantage of her position of power. He sentenced her to five years in state prison, San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe, said.
Matko, 33, of Belmont, apologized and said she was genuinely sorry for her actions. She asked Karesh to let her save her marriage and her mental health by instead sentencing her to probation. A jury convicted her of one count of oral copulation on a minor and three counts of lewd acts on a 14- or 15-year-old. She was an English teacher at Aspire East Palo Alto Phoenix Academy. She was accused of engaging in the sexual contact with two 15-year-old male students from Sept. 1 to Nov. 14, 2015.
The jury found Matko guilty on in late September of a lewd and lascivious act on one of the boys but couldn't reach a verdict on the count of oral copulation involving the other victim. She pleaded not guilty in January 2016, denying the allegations and saying the boys were lying.
The first child's family spoke in court prior to Matko's sentencing, Wagstaffe said.
Matko will have to register as a sex offender, but a new law, Senate Bill 384, which is going into effect on Jan. 1, 2021, would modify the Sex Offender Registration Act from a required lifetime registration after the person is released from incarceration to a three-tiered registration based on the offense.
The tiered registration will allow persons convicted of lesser sex crimes to petition for a reduced registration time of 10 or 20 years, depending in part on the convict's likelihood of recommitting a sex crime. The district attorney's office will provide its opinion, but a judge will decide to accept or reject the petition. Persons convicted of serious or violent crimes would not be eligible for the shortened registration period.
Matko could conceivably be removed from the registry after 20 years, according to the law.
Wagstaffe said that he and other district attorneys approve of the new registration law because not all offenders should be in the lifetime category.
"We know people who as a 26-year-old had sexual relations with a 16-year-old," Wagstaffe said, adding that, while it was illegal, the question is whether it is as egregious as the acts of a violent rapist. "It's a good evolution in the law."