EL DORADO COUNTY (CBS13) — A former gymnastics coach was sentenced to prison for sexually abusing a student and for possession of child pornography.
In front of a packed courtroom Tuesday, 55-year-old Keith Willette agreed to a plea deal on lesser charges and accepted a three-year and eight-month sentence.
Family and friends of the victim filled both sides of the room all wearing red in solidarity with the victim. Not one person was in the gallery on Willette’s behalf.
“Emotional and feeling very powerful at the same time,” said the victim, Melissa Genovese who spoke to the court. “I’m just very thankful for all these people here in support of me.”
Genovese stood before the man who she said stole her innocence.
At the age of 15, Willette was her gymnastics coach; she thought she’d go to the Olympics.
Instead, she said he used his power to groom her and to sexually abuse her.
“It’s been a long road,” she said.
The abuse started in 1999, but it wasn’t until 2017 when she found her voice and was finally was able to speak out.
“I want him to know that we all know who he really is and that he’s a coward and that he’s never going to be anything more than that,” Genovese said.
Protected by his attorney, Willette hid his face and never once looked at or addressed the room.
“It was infuriating. It was very frustrating, and I wanted to look him right in the eye. I don’t think he would look at me just because I do believe he’s a coward,” she said.
Her sister also addressed the courtroom in a prepared speech.
“I want him to know that we know who is and what he did and that he’s not going to get away with it again,” said Jen Genovese. “He is a monster.”
In court, Willette’s stepdaughter also spoke and said she was sexually abused for 20 years, but the statute of limitation is up.
“It takes women a long time to even get to a place where they can’t even talk about it, and that’s why it has taken so long for both of these women, and our judicial system needs to recognize that,” Jen Genovese said.
The deputy district attorney on the case said while the punishment will never be enough, here the victim was able to take back her power.
“Finally to have that strength to come forward after all these years that their voices are still being able to be heard and it is finally justice, and it is finally closure for them,” said Lisette Suder with the El Dorado County D.A.’s Office. “I really hope that finally being heard and knowing that it was not OK and getting that counseling and feeling that strength to tell victims out there that you were not alone and that the community stands by you and that you have a voice and you can stand up and say this was not OK I take back my power and control over you.”
Genovese hopes her story will inspire others to never back down and to always have a voice.
“I can say that I’m the strongest I’ve ever been in a much better place than I’ve ever been in my entire life and that’s why I was able to do what I did today,” she said.
Willette was only sentenced to three years and eight months, but in the end, the judge looked Willette in the eye and said: “I think you are a pervert for life.”
Because of state laws, Willette will serve less than two years of his sentence.
The D.A.’s office says there could be more victims. Willette was also an instructor in Sacramento, Ohio, Minnesota, and Washington.