'Never give up': Sexual assault survivor happy with guilty plea of former Nixon city manager
GUADALUPE COUNTY, Texas – Former Nixon city manager and Nixon-Smiley High School substitute teacher Manuel Zepeda on Tuesday pleaded guilty to a charge of child sex assault.
Zepeda took a plea deal for sexually assaulting a 15-year-old girl eight years ago. The woman came forward in 2016, which is when Zepeda was arrested and charged.
The case sat with the Gonzales County Attorney's Office for more than a year and was eventually transferred to Guadalupe County.
"At first, I wanted him to go to prison for a long time, but him admitting he's guilty, that's satisfying enough for me," said Haley Maikoetter, sexual assault survivor.
Zepeda’s 10-year deferred adjudication probation, which includes registering as a sex offender with conditions of a curfew and a no-contact order, started immediately.
He will now do the following:
"The judge ordered a lot of stuff that I wanted, and I got it, so I'm so excited," Maikoetter said.
On Tuesday, Maikoetter smiled and laughed in front of the news cameras, a stark difference from the first time she was interviewed by KSAT.
In 2017, Zepeda was still the Nixon city manager and a Nixon-Smiley High substitute teacher. He had just been arrested and charged for sexually assaulting Maikoetter and two other girls when they were teenagers.
In the 2017 interview, Maikoetter said, "I was trying to find a summer job, and he owned a local pool, so he would hire me to do odd jobs, like mowing the grass, weed eating, things like that. He asked us if he could try to massage us because he wanted to be a masseuse. He started messing with me and said, if we say anything, he said he would kill our family."
Maikoetter was never the same. She dropped out of school, sank into depression and tried to bury what happened.
In the courtroom Tuesday, Maikoetter's attorney read her victim's impact statement as she stood facing Zepeda in tears.
Her letter said:
"I looked up to you, Zepeda, as my teacher and a military retiree. You took my pride, my dignity, my joy, my laughter, my life. I had to tell my husband what you put me through. I had to tell many different people that I didn't know, what you did to me. My husband passed away in 2017. I'm now 24, a widow, a single mother of three, still no education. But I want you to know after everything you put me through, I am a fighter. I still have flashbacks but I ask God to help me every day to get through this."
Eight years after she was assaulted, Maikoetter said she finally feels justice was served.
"Just never give up, even when people like Zepeda tell you that no one's going to listen. Clearly, today, a lot of people listened and heard me," Maikoetter said.
Jerry Airola was the first investigator to interview the three original victims, including Maikoetter. At the time, he was with the Precinct 4 Constable's Office. He now works for the Marion Police Department.
"After I'd gotten information from all three, I was able to put together the affidavits for the arrest. Because I had previously worked for the Nixon Police Department, they passed the case to the Texas Rangers," Airola said.
He said he continued to stay in touch with Maikoetter and the two other victims who originally came forward. The other two girls became exhausted with the judicial process, however, and did not continue with their cases.
"The case sat with Gonzales County for, I think, 16 months, and (the girls) were scared he was going to get away with this, maybe even become city manager again," Airola said. "They were becoming re-victimized. I hope those ladies come forward and those cases can also be tried."
Former Nixon Police Chief Mario Hernandez was also at the sentencing hearing.
"I'm really glad justice was served today for this young lady, and I urge any other victims out there to please come forward,” Hernandez said.
He said any other victims should make reports to the Texas Rangers. Their office number is 512-424-2160.
Maikoetter's bravery and endurance will now frame her future.
"I'm a mom of three now, so I'm very busy and active and I guess I'm just a brighter person," she said.
She said she plans to go back to school and create the future for herself that, for years, she didn't think was possible.
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