MARTINEZ -- Kristen Cunnane was an 11-year-old sixth-grader with a face full of braces in 1993 when she first met Julie Gay Correa. Cunnane already knew her as the favorite teacher of the most athletic seventh- and eighth-grade girls at her Moraga middle school in the 1990s.
It wasn't long before Cunnane wanted to be just like the P.E. teacher and coach revered by so many people in the Joaquin Moraga Middle School community. Over the next four years, Correa became one of the closest friends in Kristen's life.
Then Correa started raping her.
"More than 10 years after the fact, the cut she left was so deep it almost killed me," Cunnane said Wednesday before Correa was sentenced to eight years in prison for the sexual abuse that continued from 1996 until 1999, beginning when Cunnane was 14 and Correa was a married 28-year-old.
Now an associate head coach for the Cal women's swim team and married to a Contra Costa prosecutor, Cunnane said she didn't want to be referred to as Jane Doe.
"This did not happen to Jane Doe; this happened to me." Cunnane said. "As a coach, it was my duty to lift my head and come forward."
Correa, who moved to Utah to start a new life as a stay-at-home mom a couple years after Cunnane broke free from her, could have been sentenced to more than 100 years in prison had she not accepted a deal from the Attorney General's Office and pleaded no contest to four felony sex crimes.
Cunnane has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and continues to work through her pain in therapy. She described to the court how Correa groomed her for the abuse with secret trips off campus, gifts and special one-on-one time before and after school.
Cunnane said that once the sexual abuse began, she was too fearful and ashamed to tell anyone about it. She felt she could not escape Correa, who would watch her high school soccer games from afar with binoculars and would pop up wherever Cunnane was around town. Cunnane said Correa kept tabs on her via a secret cellphone that she provided and instructed her to hide in the hollowed out pages of a Spanish-English dictionary.
She would sneak into Cunnane's family home and hide in her closet, or under her bed. Correa once broke her leg while jumping out of a second-story window to avoid the girl's parents.
Correa told her that if she told anyone, she would commit suicide like Mr. Witters, another teacher at the school. Daniel Witters killed himself in 1996 just as police began investigating numerous molestation allegations.
"I had no other choice. I did not want to lose my family. I did not want to lose my life. I did not want Julie to kill herself," Cunnane said. "I was made to believe I would never have a life beyond Julie's control."
In court Tuesday, the defense asked the court to sentence Correa to five years in prison. Many Correa supporters, including her husband, told the court Tuesday that they were shocked and surprised when Correa was arrested last year after Cunnane came forward to police. The allegations were so out of character for the woman they know as a caring former teacher and a wonderful mother, they said.
It was because she is so charismatic, prosecutor Geoffrey Lauter said, that Correa was able to facilitate her crimes. He noted that even during her apology in court Tuesday, Correa still characterized the relationship as a romantic one, and continues to blame the victim.
When Judge Clare Maier handed down the maximum sentence, Correa turned to her family and mouthed, "It's OK."
Contact Malaika Fraley at 925-234-1684. Follow her at Twitter.com/malaikafraley.