LOCAL NEWS

Ex-BYU professor sentenced to 2 years of probation in student sex abuse case

Jun 26, 2023, 8:26 PM | Updated: Jun 27, 2023, 6:08 am

FILE: A judge on Tuesday declined to close court proceedings against a man charged with killing two...

FILE: A judge on Tuesday declined to close court proceedings against a man charged with killing two Eagle Mountain boys who were playing in a corral. KSL and other media organizations fought against the closure. (Kristin Murphy/Deseret News)

(Kristin Murphy/Deseret News)

PROVO, Utah — A Utah judge said the sentence for a former BYU professor who pleaded no contest to sexual battery involving students could have ended up very differently if he and the attorneys in the case hadn’t already agreed to a Rule 11 plea — which means the judge agreed to impose the sentence proposed by the attorneys before the plea was signed.

“I’ve got to say I’m very concerned. Taking advantage of innocent students is just inexcusable. There is just no room for that type of behavior and grooming in our society,” 4th District Judge Sean Petersen said Monday.

Yet Michael James Clay, 48, was sentenced to no jail time, only two years of probation.

Petersen described reading victim impact statements from two of three students who claimed they were assaulted by Clay while he was their professor at Brigham Young University.

“In reading those, Mr. Clay, if you don’t get a sense of what these victims have gone through and are going through, that is a serious problem. I do feel for these victims, the lives of these women will clearly be affected forever and that’s of great concern to me,” the judge said.

Clay was initially charged with two counts of forcible sexual abuse. After two more students came forward, he was later charged with four additional counts of forcible sexual abuse. All were second-degree felonies.

Prosecutors said the Springville man engaged in “ecclesiastical abuse to accomplish his sex abuse.” Clay told one victim he had prayed about her and felt inspired by God to engage in physical contact with her, and led her to believe that she could not turn him down, according to police.

Michael James Clay, a former BYU professor accused of sexually assaulting three students, was sentenced to two years of probation and 50 years of community service for three counts of sexual battery, a class A misdemeanor.
Michael James Clay, a former BYU professor accused of sexually assaulting three students, was sentenced to two years of probation and 50 hours of community service for three counts of sexual battery, a class A misdemeanor. (Brigham Young University)

As part of a plea bargain with the Utah County Attorney’s Office, Clay pleaded no contest to three reduced counts of sexual battery, a class A misdemeanor, and all other charges were dismissed.

With little comment Monday from attorneys about the sentence already agreed upon — including an attorney representing two of the victims — Petersen suspended sentences of 364 days in jail for each count and instead sentenced Clay to serve 24 months of probation and 50 hours of community service. He also ordered the man to take a sexual boundaries class and have no contact with the three victims.

The judge said “there will be zero tolerance” moving forward and encouraged Clay to comply completely with the terms of the agreement.

When asked if he wanted to make a comment before the sentence, Clay told the judge he had nothing to say. In signing his plea, he wrote: “I intentionally touched the buttocks of three adult women. … I should have known it would cause affront or alarm.”

In charging documents, three BYU students reported meeting with Clay in one-on-one interactions that mirrored therapy sessions. The women told police their then-professor used religion or his position as an associate professor or their employer to manipulate them.

The first victim filed a police report against Clay in April of 2020. BYU Police Lt. Jeff Long testified that the woman is an immigrant and was trying to get into the urban development program. Clay was head of that program at the time.

Long said Clay admitted to him that he had skin-on-skin contact with the woman during a hug that was an “inadvertent touch” because the woman had a shirt with a high midriff. During the interview, Clay also confirmed he took the woman up Provo Canyon in a vehicle and said there may have been an accidental touch.

The lieutenant also said Clay confirmed that there was one point when the woman was sitting on his lap, but Clay denied the “dry humping” that the woman reported. Clay confirmed to the officer that he had given the woman money to purchase clothing, and she pulled up her shirt to expose the bottom of a bra she had purchased. Long said the woman reported he had asked her to pull up her shirt to expose the bra.

Provo police detective Scott Nielsen testified about two other victims — women who came forward after the charges related to the first woman were filed. He said another woman reported Clay touching her buttocks or tailbone during conversations about chakra.

The professor would greet the victims with hugs, which became progressively longer and eventually led to him “moving his hands down (one woman’s) back, and fondling her buttocks,” according to the charging documents, which also allege that he held meditation sessions where he would have the student sit on his lap, straddling him, while he sat on the floor.

One student told police that “although she did not want to participate with this touching, she was afraid of refusing” because Clay was her boss and professor, and her progress in her field of study was at his “sole discretion.”

Defense attorneys Cara Tangaro and Scott Williams said in a statement after the plea that Clay entered the no-contest plea because he wanted to move his life forward and put the matter behind him.

KSL 5 TV Live

Local News

Three people suffered minor injuries following a small airplane crash Wednesday near Vernal. (Verna...

Mark Jones

3 people suffer minor injuries in small airplane crash near Vernal

Three people suffered minor injuries following a small plane crash Wednesday near Vernal.

11 minutes ago

Ysabelle Cuevas a is a nurse at Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital and also a also celebra...

Angie Denison and Michael Houck, KSL TV

Pop Star Nurse: Ysabelle Cueva pursues both of her passions

By day, Ysabelle Cuevas is a registered nurse at Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital. But her other passion is inspiring others with her music.

23 minutes ago

Chad Daybell stands next to his attorney, John Prior, during his murder trial in Boise on Apr. 18....

Daniel Woodruff

Prosecutors want to call more witnesses in Chad Daybell murder trial after defense rests

Prosecutors in the Chad Daybell murder trial in Idaho told a judge Wednesday they want to call several more witnesses as a rebuttal after the defense attorney rests his case.

1 hour ago

Twelve-year-old Kiara loves horse, cooking and trying new food. However, she’s looking for a fami...

Shara Park

Wednesday’s Child: 12-year-old Kiara loves horses, enjoys cooking and trying new foods

Twelve-year-old Kiara is looking for a family connection, a caring adult who can provide her with lifelong stability, a family that will love and guide her as she figures out who she wants to be.

2 hours ago

Grand County first responders helping the woman getting out of the canyon after getting her hair st...

Michael Houck

Woman’s hair gets tangled in rappelling device while canyoneering in Moab

A woman needed medical attention after her hair got entangled in a rappelling device while canyoneering late Monday night.

3 hours ago

Seniors at Roy High School gathered for a dress rehearsal of graduation. (Tanner Siegworth, KSL TV)...

Deanie Wimmer

How Roy High boosted graduation rates from 70% to 92%

Roy High School has accomplished something few thought was possible, by aligning community to invest in the lives of students. Now other schools are taking note.

3 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Electrician repairing ceiling fan with lamps indoors...

Lighting Design

Stay cool this summer with ceiling fans

When used correctly, ceiling fans help circulate cool and warm air. They can also help you save on utilities.

Side view at diverse group of children sitting in row at school classroom and using laptops...

PC Laptops

5 Internet Safety Tips for Kids

Read these tips about internet safety for kids so that your children can use this tool for learning and discovery in positive ways.

Women hold card for scanning key card to access Photocopier Security system concept...

Les Olson

Why Printer Security Should Be Top of Mind for Your Business

Connected printers have vulnerable endpoints that are an easy target for cyber thieves. Protect your business with these tips.

Modern chandelier hanging from a white slanted ceiling with windows in the backgruond...

Lighting Design

Light Up Your Home With These Top Lighting Trends for 2024

Check out the latest lighting design trends for 2024 and tips on how you can incorporate them into your home.

Technician woman fixing hardware of desktop computer. Close up....

PC Laptops

Tips for Hassle-Free Computer Repairs

Experiencing a glitch in your computer can be frustrating, but with these tips you can have your computer repaired without the stress.

Close up of finger on keyboard button with number 11 logo...

PC Laptops

7 Reasons Why You Should Upgrade Your Laptop to Windows 11

Explore the benefits of upgrading to Windows 11 for a smoother, more secure, and feature-packed computing experience.

Ex-BYU professor sentenced to 2 years of probation in student sex abuse case