A La Mesa karate instructor who pleaded guilty to repeatedly molesting one of his teenage students was sentenced Thursday afternoon to 26 years in state prison.
Eric Protas, 38, admitted to 29 felony charges, including committing lewd acts on a child, in February.
Prosecutors said Protas had sexual contact with a boy, now age 15, about 300 times, beginning at a sleepover the night before a karate class paintball trip.
Kenneth Krebs, the victim's grandfather, said Thursday that Protas “hid behind a cloak of religion as a do-gooder.”
“He was a pro at his profession,” Protas said. “A pedophile and molester.”
Albert Arena, Protas’ defense attorney, said his client “struggled with homosexuality” and is not a pedophile but, rather, “he fell in love with him.”
In October, the victim testified against Protas.
“At first it started real slow, maybe once or twice a week,” he said. “And then it began more frequent[ly], maybe five or six days a week almost every time.”
The victim said Protas made him feel guilty if he did not comply.
Before pleading guilty, Protas professed his innocence, likening himself to Jesus and his teen accuser to Judas on a Facebook page, prosecutors said.
They added that Protas encouraged others to intimidate his accuser.
On the day Protas was arraigned, nearly 100 people stood outside the El Cajon courthouse in his defense.
Supporters also created a Facebook page, called "Head Instructor Eric Protas is Innocent," and solicited donations for his defense fund.