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26-month sentence for former student teacher who sexually assaulted 15 year old

Michael Herrera was sentenced to 26 months in jail April 26 for sexually assaulting a 15-year-old Surrey student when he was training to be a teacher. - Evan Seal / The Leader
Michael Herrera was sentenced to 26 months in jail April 26 for sexually assaulting a 15-year-old Surrey student when he was training to be a teacher.
— image credit: Evan Seal / The Leader

A former student teacher in Surrey who violently sexually assaulted a 15-year-old student during a master/slave sexual scenario has been sentenced to 26 months in federal prison.

It was May 2010 and Michael Herrera, then 24, was completing his final practicum – classroom experience required to be certified as a B.C. teacher – when he developed a relationship with the teen girl. (There is a publication ban on any information that could identify the victim.)

The girl had written an autobiography in which she told about her difficult childhood, which included sexual abuse. Herrera read it and in turn, shared with her the abuse he had suffered when he was young. The teen felt a connection. The two began emailing and sending wireless messages to one another.

The evidence, said Crown prosecutor Winston Sayson during sentencing at New Westminster Supreme Court on Friday (April 26), shows Herrera began "grooming" the young victim to get closer to her.

"What the accused did … was despicable, disturbing and devastating," said Sayson. "This is made more reprehensible as the accused knew the vulnerability of the victim."

Herrera began by telling her she was a talented writer – affirmation she welcomed, given her background, said Sayson. He then began touching her and suggested they meet somewhere in the Surrey high school that didn't have cameras. There, he removed her top, touching her breasts and vagina.

The teen sent him a message saying she was conflicted, that she knew students and teachers shouldn't be engaged in such activities.

Herrera responded by saying "It's wrong but it feels right.

"It feels good. I want you," he said. "What is so bad about being selfish? Is it bad to be happy? I don't think so."

The two then planned to meet at Herrera's home on May 17, 2010, when they would engage in a master/slave sexual encounter. Herrera told the girl they'd discuss the "rules" upon her arrival, but to "be prepared to turn your body over to me for whatever purposes I see fit."

The victim cried in court as details of her discussions with Herrera were read.

The court heard that she was nervous and fearful going to his house. When they started getting intimate, she had second thoughts and tried to escape, screaming and saying a pre-arranged "safe word" to indicate she wanted to stop.

But Herrera caught her and put his hand over her mouth. He then forced her to have violent intercourse. He then made her do the dishes and wash the floor, all the while degrading her, hitting her and calling her demeaning names. He had intercourse with her twice more, hit her with a belt, bit her, pulled her hair and choked her before she left his home that afternoon.

Herrera told her not to tell anyone what had happened and delete all her emails.

Overwhelmed and confused, the teen eventually confided in her friends and parents and police were called. They seized her computer and a pair of underwear – which were later found to contain the Herrera's DNA.

A sexual assault exam at the hospital revealed bruising to the teen's cheek, neck, back, breasts, groin and thighs, as well as vaginal tearing – 29 injuries in all.

The girl informed Herrera she had told people and he advised her to tell everyone it was hallucinations.

Herrera, 27, pleaded guilty to sexual assault last October.

The petite victim, about six inches shorter and half the weight of Herrera, took the stand to tell about the impact of the assault.

She said she's suffered nightmares, memory loss and had trouble finishing high school. Her relationships with friends and family also suffered greatly and she has physical scars that serve as reminders and cause her embarrassment.

"I felt stupid and vulnerable to allow myself to trust so easily," said the girl, now 18, adding she is still wary of men.

During psychological evaluation, Herrera was diagnosed as a sexual sadist.

On Friday, he stood in court and apologized. Facing the judge, he said he was sorry for the terrible ramifications he caused the teen and her family.

"I feel like I should look over [at the victim], but I'm very ashamed.

"I'm sorry. I know nothing like this would ever happen again."

The Crown wanted Herrera, who has no prior convictions, sentenced to either two years less a day in provincial prison followed by three years probation, or two-and-a-half to three years in federal jail. The defence suggested a sentence of 26 months in federal prison.

"What's happened here is so, so distressing," Justice James Williams said to Herrera, noting children have a right to be safe from harm at school. "I can only hope that you're true to your word … and you're not going to darken the door of any courtroom again."

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