Jury deliberating case against ex-teacher accused of sexual misconduct - Omaha.com
Published Friday, March 8, 2013 at 12:00 am / Updated at 4:11 am
Jury deliberating case against ex-teacher accused of sexual misconduct

Shad Knutson was a hands-on teacher.

On that much, the defense and prosecution agreed during the seven-day trial of the former middle school teacher facing five felony charges relating to sexual misconduct.

Judging whether Knutson's hands-on methods were criminal — whether he made sexual advances toward middle school girls, including asking for oral sex — is now up to a jury of nine women and three men.

Prosecutors and the defense rested Thursday after spending nearly four hours making closing arguments in the case.

Knutson, 36, who formerly taught at Nathan Hale Middle School, testified in his defense Wednesday.

“His words were 'I'm a hands-on teacher,' ” said Brenda Beadle, chief deputy Douglas County attorney. “He sure is. He sure is.”

Prosecutors told the jury to decide the case based on the credibility of those who testified: Knutson, who denied the girls' sexual allegations, or the girls, who in emotional testimony detailed sexual touching and requests for more.

“It is about the courage and the strength of four girls to come in here to tell you all, and to tell all of us, what they had to endure at his hands,” Beadle said.

But the defense questioned the state's case, saying Omaha Public Schools officials investigated two of the girls' claims but never told police.

Public Defender Tom Riley said prosecutors relied too much on individual testimony without corroborating witnesses.

“When (OPS) determined that it's baseless,” he said, “what are they supposed to do — call the police and say 'This is baseless'?”

The jury will decide whether Knutson is guilty of 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.

Throughout the case, prosecutors have shaped it as a failure of OPS and praised the girls for their testimony.

It wasn't until Knutson's alleged third victim complained that police found out about the allegations of the first two girls.

Knutson allegedly brushed his hands against the third girl's breasts, according to her earlier testimony. The girl, then 14, thought it was an accident, but Knutson did it again, she said, and smiled.

He also grabbed her pen, placed it in front of his crotch and dared her to grab it.

The girl told her mother, who told school officials to call police. OPS officials declined.

The mother called Child Protective Services.

The fourth alleged victim, a Nathan Hale alumnus who said she was in love with Knutson, exchanged nearly 27,000 text messages or phone calls in a year.

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 that during her freshman and sophomore years, when she was 14 and 15, the two made out in his classroom.

Knutson admitted to hugging a student but never making out with her in the classroom. He also said sometimes text messages can be as short as one letter.

Riley said just because the girls said Knutson made advances doesn't mean it's true.

Knutson may have acted in a juvenile way around his students, he said, “but he's not a pervert.”

Knutson has a reason to lie, prosecutors said: to deny the embarrassing allegations against him.

If the girls were lying, Beadle said, why would they subject themselves to interviews with police and attorneys and to public testimony?

“These aren't friends who get together one night and said 'Let's set up our social studies teacher just for kicks,' ” Beadle said to the jury. “Hold him accountable.”

Contact the writer: 402-444-1074, jonathon.braden@owh.com, twitter.com/jonathonbraden

Contact the writer: Jonathon Braden

jonathon.braden@owh.com    |   402-444-1074    |  

Jonathon writes about education, mostly the Omaha Public Schools, Nebraska's largest district.

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