Eric Cephus, the on-call Sacramento County sheriff”s deputy who was arrested for allegedly having sex with a 13-year-old girl at a Lincoln hotel, was sentenced today to 18 years in state prison.
Cephus, 39, who had pleaded not guilty to molestation charges on March 4, abruptly changed his plea to ‘no contest’ in Placer County Superior Court in Auburn to two felony charges of committing a lewd act with a child under the age of 14 years old.
In addition, he admitted a special allegation of kidnapping the victim for purposes of having sex with a minor. That admission accounted for 15 of the 18-year prison sentence.
Judge J. Richard Couzens also ordered Cephus to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life, submit to non-confidential AIDs testing and pay fines and restitution totaling $5,260.
Cephus agreed to accept two felony strikes on his criminal record and he will be on parole for three years after being released from prison.
In a barely audible voice, Cephus apologized in court to the victim and her family, who were in the courtroom.
‘I just want to say I’m sorry,’ Cephus said. ‘I’ve destroyed my life. I let people down.’
His attorney, Barry Rekoon of the Placer County Public Defender’s Office, said his client’s life ‘is basically over.’
Rekoon said Cephus might find a job doing janitorial-type work ‘but even that might be difficult.’
The defense attorney said his client changed his plea because a conviction in a trial exposed him to a potential life sentence. Cephus will spend more than 15 years in prison before being eligible for parole, Rekoon said.
Prosecutor Jeff Wood of the Placer County District Attorney’s Office said the plea punishes the defendant and protects society. It was also made in an effort to avoid placing the 13-year-old girl on the witness stand, although Wood felt the girl would have done well under questioning.
‘We had a pretty strong case,’ he said, adding that he thought the change of plea and the sentence ‘was a fair resolution’ to the case.
The incident involving Cephus and the girl occurred on Feb. 26. He picked up the victim and another 12-year-old girl while patrolling in Sacramento County and drove them to a children’s receiving home.
He dropped off the 12-year-old girl but enticed the other girl to come with him to a hotel in Lincoln for sexual favors after he first changed into regular clothing and switched his patrol car for his own vehicle. In exchange for the sexual favors, he offered the girl clothing and a place to stay, Wood said.
The following day, the victim walked into a beauty salon in Lincoln and tried to borrow a phone to call a taxi for a ride back to Sacramento. Employees at the salon were suspicious of the story she gave them and called Lincoln police, who investigated and arranged to have Cephus arrested at his home in San Jose several days later.
Cephus, who was being held in the Placer County jail on $1 million bail and who has resigned from the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department, had gone to court today for a preliminary hearing, in which the prosecution presents evidence to a judge to determine whether a case should go to trial.
But an hour after the scheduled starting time, the judge convened proceedings by announcing that the defendant had agreed to change his plea.
While technically not a guilty plea, an entry of ‘no contest’ means a defendant does not admit guilt for a crime but is willing to be punished by a judge as if the plea had been that of guilty.