The prosecution made its opening statement and called its first witness Friday in the trial of a church youth mentor accused of having sex with an underage boy.
Deputy District Attorney Eric Hovatter argued Ember Dawn Schlensker used her moral authority with the unnamed teenage victim to draw him into a sexual relationship. He acknowledged the victim willingly entered it, but the law makes no distinction for that.
Schlensker is charged with 45 felonies for allegedly having sex with the teenage boy at least once a month when the two were both in the Sonora area over the course of several years.
Schlensker, who is married, lives in Crescent City in Northern California.
Hovatter said Schlensker and the boy — identified as “John Doe” in court — became sexually active while Schlensker and her husband lived with the boy and the boy’s single mother.
Beginning with her advances, the boy went along with a sexual relationship that resulted in his falling in love with her, Hovatter said.
The evidence referred to in the opening statement showed the prosecution will rely heavily on the use of testimony from the victim, now 18, and his mother to describe the relationship.
Schlensker’s attorney, Mark Borden, postponed his opening statement until Hovatter finished introducing evidence. Hovatter then called his first witness to the stand.
The victim’s mother said she met Schlensker in 2008 when Schlensker began interning to become the youth group director at St. Matthew Lutheran Church in East Sonora.
She got to know Schlensker when she took the role of director of the youth group.
They shared a goal to create “The Commons,” a Christian-oriented safe and fun home for local youths, she said in answer to the prosecutor’s questions.
She said Ember Schlensker and her husband, Phil Schlensker, began staying overnight occasionally. They began living full-time with the single mother and her son in early 2010.
They moved in to work on “The Commons” project and for Phil to provide a consistent male role model for the boy, whose father was divorced by the mother right around the time she met Schlensker, the mother said.
They also moved in for practical reasons — such as helping pay rent, taking the teenage boy to school and so that Schlensker wouldn’t be alone when her husband went to work at night.
She and the Schlenskers had built trust and shared the same values, she said about how she felt at the time.
But starting in 2009, certain interactions began striking her as strange, then inappropriate.
First was a text from Schlensker to the boy saying not to worry, because it was “only a little blood.” Schlensker told the mom the text was not from her number, then later admitted to it with tears, showing her scratches on her wrists, the mother said. The cause of the scratches was not discussed in court.
After that, several incidences occurred involving the boy joining Schlensker in bed with the lights off when her husband was gone, the mother testified.
She said she never witnessed any direct sexual behavior this way, but thought it was inappropriate.
Typically, she would find them in bed at night with clothes on, saying they were just talking.
Nine incidences with similar inappropriateness were discussed in court.
The boy and Schlensker denied any wrongdoing from 2009 until about June 2012, when the mother opened her laptop to find her son’s Facebook page open to a conversation with a young woman about his having sex with Schlensker, she said.
The mother confronted her son. He admitted to having sex daily or nearly daily since they’d lived together and that he had feelings for her, she said.
At the preliminary hearing, the defense alleged the boy abused Schlensker.
St. Matthew Lutheran Church could not be reached for comment over the weekend.