AUDRAIN COUNTY, Mo. - Robert Cortez appeared on video in Audrain County Court from a Joplin courtroom to plead guilty to two counts of sexual contact with a student. He had previously entered a plea of not guilty.
Cortez, a former band and music teacher at Mexico High School, admitted to sexually touching a student while he was employed at the school in September 2016.
According to the prosecutor, Cortez gave the boy a ride to Columbia from Mexico to get items for an upcoming school event.
The prosecutor said while in the car, Cortez touched the boy's leg and private area at least twice. The boy reported the incident to school authorities the next morning.
"Cortez entered his pleas of guilty and admitted he committed the crimes against a former Mexico High School student during the plea hearing this morning," Audrain County prosecuting attorney Jacob Shellabarger said in a statement after the hearing.
The prosecutor said following the boy's reporting, Cortez began denying the allegations, "telling investigators it was a conspiracy and the evidence was fabricated" and the boy was "lying to get Cortez in trouble because the boy was not a talented musician or was a troubled person."
"Robert Cortez broke the trust placed in him by his students, those students' parents and the Mexico School District, and this community will take time to heal from this betrayal," Shellabarger said. "The events occurring during the MHS Homecoming 2016 immediately divided the community between those who claimed Cortez was innocent or the target of a conspiracy; and a victim who wished to remain anonymous and wanted to make sure other students were protected from Cortez's actions. Cortez's plea of guilty today means he has taken responsibility and admitted his actions."
The prosecution also stated that the "Missouri State Highway Patrol's DNA analysis confirmed the presence of Cortez's DNA on the boy's underwear."
Cortez's sentencing hearing is scheduled for December. He could be sentenced to four years in prison for each charge as well as up to a $5,000 fine for each.