His testimony was short on details, firm in its denials.
Former middle school teacher Shad Knutson took the stand Wednesday and issued a blanket denial of charges that he committed sexual misconduct with four students.
In contrast to the teenage girls' testimony — about torn, lasting emotions and twisted requests by Knutson — Knutson succinctly and summarily denied wrongdoing.
Didn't happen, he said over and over of the girls' allegations.
“That is an absolute lie,” he said once.
Knutson had sat in the Douglas County courtroom listening to four girls allege that he had made all sorts of sexual advances toward them — from asking for photos to asking for oral sex, from touching their breasts to shoving his crotch in one girl's face. The girls were 13 or 14 at the time.
The former Omaha Public Schools teacher is charged with two counts of child abuse, two counts of sexual contact and one count of enticing a child with an electronic device. If convicted, he would face three to 70 years in prison.
On the witness stand, Knutson agreed with other people's characterizations that he was a nontraditional teacher who played music in his class and had his students play learning games.
Knutson, 36, said his social studies lessons were more than lectures.
Students “seemed to remember more if they were involved more,” he said. “I did more of a hands-on approach.”
Literally, prosecutors say.
In broad brushes, Knutson disputed the accusations of two girls who testified to months-long physical relationships with Knutson. Besides those two girls, two other students, ages 13 and 14, said they put a stop to Knutson's sexually charged behavior shortly after it began.
The key witness, a Nathan Hale Middle School alumna who said she was in love with Knutson, reluctantly testified against him on Tuesday.
She said she fell in love with Knutson the summer before her ninth-grade year and visited Nathan Hale so she could be with him. She said during her freshman and sophomore years, when she was 14 and 15, the two made out in his classroom.
The girl said they did so along a wall, out of sight from the window-lined door of Knutson's classroom. The makeout sessions involved kissing and touching of private parts, she said.
The two also called and texted each other dozens of times a day — adding up to 27,000 times in 2010. Prosecutors pointed out that the number was 3,000 times more than the total phone contacts Knutson had that year with all of his other acquaintances combined.
Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine said the number averaged about 90 phone contacts a day — at all hours of the day. Morning. Afternoon. Evening. Overnight.
Knutson said most of the contacts were texts, and they were mostly about his tutoring of the girl. He even spelled out the texts in court — sometimes two words like “Wat Sup?” Sometimes a single letter like “K.”
“That can add up,” he said. “You're talking about over a year.”
Knutson disputed the girl's allegations. He said he only hugged her. He never kissed her or touched her, nor did she touch him, he said.
“You heard her say you said you wanted to make love to her, you wanted to take it to the next level,” Kleine said.
“That's what she said,” Knutson said.
“Did you see her when tears were streaming down her face as she said she loved you?” Kleine asked.
“Yes I saw her,” Knutson said. “Just because she thought that doesn't make it so.”
Knutson's answers to the other girls' allegations:
• A girl described how Knutson requested that she take a picture of her breasts when she was 13 so he could seize her phone and look at them. She said she did. He asked her to flash him. She did. She said he felt her breasts while giving her athletic equipment.
Another time, he flashed her, she said. Two other times, she said, he asked her for oral sex.
“Is any of that true?” Public Defender Tom Riley asked.
“Absolutely not,” Knutson said.
• Another girl described him scrolling through her phone when she was 13, pointing to a photo of her breasts and saying, “I want these.”
Later, she said, she was taking a test after school and asked Knutson a question. She said he wrote a note to her that he would give her a B if she gave him a photo. School administrators said she was crying and her knee was bouncing uncontrollably as she relayed the account to them minutes later.
Knutson said he made no such request. He said he did seize the student's cellphone — several times — because she was disrupting class.
The time after school, he said, he seized her cellphone and saw a picture of her, her sister and her mom. He told her it was a cute picture, looked through the phone at a couple of other pictures, closed it and eventually gave it back to her.
He said he never asked for a photo of her breasts.
• A girl who was then a Student Council member and had just turned 14 said Knutson brushed his hand across her breasts while she was at his desk. She initially thought it was accidental. Then he did it again, she said, and smiled at her.
He also snatched her pen, placed it in front of his crotch and dared her to grab it. She reported him to school administrators. Her mother asked school officials to call police.
They refused. The mom called Child Protective Services herself.
Knutson said he didn't do any of those things.
Knutson also explained what prosecutors and school officials described as suggestive Post-It notes. One of them, found in his trash after a girl complained that he had asked for a photo of her breasts, read: “You gonna let me feel.”
Knutson said that was in reference to a one-on-one basketball game he had with an eighth-grade boy. The two agreed to play each other. The stakes: the right to touch the boy's treasured white fur coat — a coat that the boy wouldn't let anyone touch.
Knutson said he beat the kid and then wrote the note: “You gonna let me feel?” Knutson said the boy allowed him to.
“Everyone in the class laughed,” Knutson said.
No one on the jury did.
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