Courts

Government, lawyers for local gymnastics coach agree on decade sentence in federal child porn case

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A California gymnastics coach who was sentenced to 2 years in state prison for molesting one of his former gymnasts pled guilty in a similar federal case on Tuesday, reaching an agreement with the government that he will spend 10 years in prison.

Keith Wayne Willette, 59, pled guilty to two counts of child porn possession around a month before he was slated to go to trial for the offenses in Sacramento’s federal court, originally charged via indictment in 2019. The federal case involves child porn found at his house in relation to two victims, one being the same from his state case, a one-time Olympic hopeful named Melissa Genovese.

The Update refrains from naming individuals who say they are victims of sexual assault unless the individual identifies themselves publicly, as Genovese has.

According to court documents, Willette, while massaging Genovese’s legs after a hamstring injury, began to touch her genitals. He told her he needed to document her muscle development and had her remove her clothes, measuring her breasts, areolas, and labia.

The abuse didn’t stop there. Willette had Genovese straddle a hot tub at her house, without any bottoms on as he touched her genitals, under the false pretense of “assessing her flexibility” and “teaching her about her body.”

Also, with the pretense of documenting body development, Willette snapped photos of her vagina and anus using a handheld digital camera manufactured outside of California – the conduct that gave rise to count one.

After seeing how apparently explicit the photos were, Genovese confronted Willette about them. He became angry and told her she “must not be serious about the Olympics” if she was questioning his training methods. Genovese remained silent, and Willette’s abuse of her continued until she moved away for college, and she reported it to law enforcement in 2017.

Prosecutors had signaled in pretrial motions that Willette was planning to use a trial defense that he took photos of the girl when she was 18 for legitimate athletic health purposes. He also sought to keep the jury from hearing about his history of grooming and uncharged sexual abuse.

After Genovese told El Dorado County Sheriff’s investigators about the abuse, they raided Willette’s house and seized multiple electronic devices, which contained nude photographs of Genovese and other children, including his own stepdaughter. Also found in the house was a journal, handwritten by Willette, which documented the abuse towards his stepdaughter.

Willette met the young girl through her mother at a gymnastics facility in the mid-1980s and they began dating. That relationship gave Willette access to the woman’s daughter, who he began molesting around the age of 13 and throughout her teenage years.

When the girl was 15, Willette recorded himself having sex with her. Two years later, he snapped polaroids after having her pose naked. The girl, now an adult, told reporters at Willette’s state trial that the statute of limitations had expired on his abuse towards her.

Authorities say Willette admitted his conduct in two separate interviews with the FBI and told authorities he destroyed child porn in his fireplace in an effort to hide it from investigators in El Dorado County.

Sentencing in the case is set for December 13th.

Ethan Biando
Ethan Biando is a freelance journalist from Sacramento. His writing focuses on crime, courts, and policing. Find him on Twitter @ethanb822

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