A former Johnson Junior High School math teacher who admitted to having sex with his adopted daughter was sentenced Friday in Laramie County District Court to 20 to 40 years in prison.

Joseph "Joe" Meza, during the second day of his trial in September 2018, accepted a plea deal and pleaded guilty to one of eight counts of first-degree sexual abuse of a minor, admitting that he had sex with the girl between Oct. 21, 2015 and May 1, 2016, when he was between 32 and 33 years of age and she was between 15 and 16.

"I was in the 7th grade and 13 when I first me Joe," wrote the victim, whose statement was read by a victim/witness coordinator. "We started our relationship in May 2014. I was 14."

"He took my childhood and teen years away from me," she added. "I stayed for so long because I did love him and I loved him more than myself."

The plea deal called for a joint recommendation of 20 to 40 years, but new District Attorney Leigh Anne Grant Manlove argued that Meza likely would have been convicted on several counts, each of which carried a maximum sentence of 50 years, and asked for a 40 year sentence.

Several family members, friends and former students spoke on Meza's behalf, saying he was a good person and a good teacher.

"I know I raised him to be an honest and respectable person," said Debbie Jones, Meza's mother. "I'm heartbroken, disappointed and saddened by this."

"Joe is remarkable," said his attorney Thomas Fleenor, who presented 28 letters to the court which echoed the statement. "At the same time, he committed a terrible crime."

"I agree with the state ... that this was not count seven by itself," said Judge Thomas Campbell, who sentenced Meza to 20 to 40 years and ordered him to pay $1,824.74 in restitution.

"It is not good person gone bad," Campbell added. "He's here of his own doing."

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