A 23-year-old Sonora man received a one-year jail sentence Tuesday for having illegal sex with six different underage girls over the course of nearly three years.
Matthew St. Clair, who was in custody at Tuesday’s hearing in Tuolumne County Superior Court, has already served 273 days in county jail while awaiting trial.
Judge James Boscoe said he would leave it up to the jail to determine his release date, but both prosecutors and defense attorneys indicated he will have already served more than his sentence after factoring in equal time credits for good behavior.
St. Clair was initially charged with 16 felonies related to the case but many of those charges were dropped after he agreed to a deal with the Tuolumne County District Attorney’s Office last month that saw him plead guilty to three felonies and three misdemeanors.
There were initially seven underage victims tied to the case — one as young as 14 — but only six were cooperative with authorities throughout the case, said Deputy District Attorney John Hansen in an interview after the hearing.
The father of one of the victims read a prepared statement to Boscoe during the sentencing.
“This person targeted naive teenage girls for his own sexual satisfaction,” said the father while urging the court to force St. Clair to register as a sex offender.
He added that the number of girls and their ages showed a clear pattern of behavior.
St. Clair was arrested Nov. 16 on a felony warrant following a Tuolumne County Sheriff’s investigation that lasted several months. Boscoe denied St. Clair’s motion to post $70,000 bail at his arraignment the next day considering the nature of the charges.
St. Clair’s attorney, Alonzo Gradford, said the county probation department’s sentencing report brought up a few “key points,” including how his client “took early responsibility for his actions” and his cooperation with authorities.
Court documents said the investigation was launched after an underage girl, whose name was withheld to protect her identity, contacted the Sheriff’s Office claiming she had been raped by St. Clair.
The girl alleged St. Clair got her intoxicated and took her to his house where she verbally protested his advances, but he continued and had sex with her.
According to the document, St. Clair told sheriff’s detectives that he and the girl had consensual sex and also admitted to having sex with six other underage victims.
The document further states his statements were confirmed during interviews with the other victims.
“The probation officer indicated time and again that the recommendation be that there be no aggravated or enhanced penalties, as I read it,” Gradford said, referring to the sentencing report.
Boscoe ultimately sentenced St. Clair to the year in jail with credit for time served, five years probation and a requirement that he register his address with local law enforcement for the duration of his time under supervision.
Boscoe added that any violation of probation could result in St. Clair being required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.
The charges won’t require St. Clair to register as a sex offender publicly on the Megan’s Law website.
“Given the number of counts, this sentence is somewhat less than would normally be imposed,” Boscoe said, citing St. Clair’s lack of a criminal record and cooperation with law enforcement as reasons for the lighter sentence.
“This is an opportunity to change your life,” Boscoe said addressing St. Clair. “You said you were remorseful in your letter to me and I hope you were sincere. You damaged a lot of lives in addition to your own.”
After the sentencing, Hansen said St. Clair actually ended up serving more time in custody than is typical for someone sentenced to a year in county jail, which generally offers an extra day of credit for each served on good behavior.
He said prosecutors in the past would typically recommend similar offenders serve their time in prison, but provisions of California’s public safety realignment — or AB 109 — that went into effect last year requires those convicted the same crimes as St. Clair to serve time in county jail.
“It affects every case we do now,” Hansen said of the limitations on punishments imposed by AB 109.