WALNUT CREEK -- The mother of one of John Astor's molestation victims stood in court Friday morning battling to compose herself. A family member offered to read her handwritten note, but she insisted on speaking.
"I feel it is important for me to speak today for all the victims that can't speak for themselves today," she said, fighting back tears. "You have robbed 10-year-old boys of their innocence. The nightmares my son has are because of you."
Astor, a 44-year-old former Mt. Diablo school district janitor, stood behind bars in a holding cell listening to the heart-wrenching testimony shortly after he pleaded guilty Friday to five molestation counts, one for each of his victims. He will spend 28 years in prison.
Astor originally faced 20 molestation charges and could have faced up to 300 years to life in prison, but the prosecution offered a deal to avoid forcing victims to testify at a trial. His crimes dated back to 1995, with the most recent a week before his Dec. 22, 2011 arrest.
As a custodian, Astor worked at Cambridge and Holbrook elementary schools in Concord and at Walnut Acres Elementary in Walnut Creek. Police and prosecutors have said the first two victims who came forward did not meet him at those schools, and to protect their anonymity have not said where Astor met the other three victims.
After his arrest, Walnut Creek police released Astor's photo to see whether other victims might come forward.
"At the young age of 4, you don't really know his purpose," he said.
Since the abuse started, life has not been easy, he said.
"Every day has been a little bit of a struggle for me to be motivated and happy with myself," he told the court, his voice quivering.
"I feel really bad for the families of the kids and victims and I want to tell them I'm sorry and everything will be all right," the young man said, looking back to victims' family members in the gallery. "I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders and I can live a little more clearly now."
Before he left the stand, Judge Clare Maire addressed that young man: "You do not blame yourself no matter how long it takes you to process that," she said. "Thank God ... for your bravery for coming forward."
The mother of another victim also expressed how her family's and friends' lives have been impacted.
"I have cried myself to sleep thinking of what you have done to him as a 5-year-old," she said. "You have changed my view of the world forever."
Judge Maier again asked the mother to not blame herself.
"You are not to blame. This heinously effective con man is to blame," she said. "He damages the most innocent in our society. Mothers are not to blame; it all lies with the man behind those bars."
Contact Matthias Gafni at 925-952-5026. Follow him at Twitter.com/mgafni.