Matt Love, an author and longtime high-school teacher, pleaded guilty Friday to luring an underage former student for sex.
Love met the girl when she was 15 and acted as a father figure and mentor who encouraged her writing. The relationship took an abrupt turn in May after Love drove the girl — then 17 — back to her home after an event. In Facebook messages afterward, Love confided that he had sex with former students in the past but thought this pursuit was different, professed his love, and made clear he wanted to have sex with her.
Dawn Buzzard, the prosecutor, called the messages “a perfect piece of grooming.”
The victim, now 18, told the Circuit Court by phone that she had heard rumors about Love and other students but never suspected he would do anything sexual or creepy to her. “So I don’t want him ever to be around students ever again,” she said. “Even though he’s a wonderful teacher,” she said, “it’s not OK.”
Love, 52, faced charges of felony luring and misdemeanor official misconduct. He pleaded guilty to misdemeanor luring. The official misconduct charge was dismissed.
Judge Dawn McIntosh sentenced Love to 30 days in jail — with a minimum of 10 days in custody — and two years probation. He also has to register as a sex offender for 10 years and pay $5,000 in restitution.
Love, who resigned as a teacher at Astoria High School after his arrest last summer, has to forfeit his teaching credential. The victim is not a former Astoria student.
Jack Green, a Vancouver, Washington, attorney who was a student of Love’s and represented him in court, had urged the judge not to designate the luring as a sex crime. Green argued that there was no physical contact between Love and the girl and that Love’s Facebook messages occurred shortly before the girl turned 18.
McIntosh said Love’s behavior was not a single lapse in judgment. The judge said Love tried to take advantage of a vulnerable young woman who looked up to him.
McIntosh said Love had much to offer the community and could go back to writing. “But you will never teach again,” she said. “You gave up the right to do that.”
In a statement to the court, Love apologized to the victim for his inexcusable actions. “I can only imagine the extreme duress my behavior has caused her,” he said. “What started out several years ago as a mentor-mentee relationship went wrong on my part because of my clouded judgment. I accept full responsibility for crossing the line and I am ashamed. I only hope she can forgive me and get on with her life and accomplish the great things I know she’s capable of. The only thing I want to make clear — it’s not her fault.”
Love, the author of more than a dozen books about Oregon and a frequent contributor to The Daily Astorian, also apologized to his family and friends.
“The narcissism that affected my character over the last decade or so has been obliterated,” Love said. “That person is gone forever.”
Several former colleagues, students and friends wrote letters to the court on Love’s behalf emphasizing his value as a teacher and writer. McIntosh said some of the letters characterized the prosecution as a “witch hunt” and the charges as false, and the judge asked Love, who had described the experience as a “crucible,” whether he viewed it as a witch hunt.
“No, I don’t,” Love said.