Defense in sex assault trial downplays boys' testimony as jury gets case -
Published Saturday, August 17, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 4:05 am
Defense in sex assault trial downplays boys' testimony as jury gets case

A former Ralston elementary school teacher is awaiting his fate on four counts of sexual assault by touching.

A Douglas County jury of three men and nine women deliberated the case of Nicholas Richter for three hours Friday before breaking for the weekend. Their deliberations will resume Monday.

Richter, 59, did not take the stand in his defense.

Instead his attorney, Joe Howard of Omaha, argued in his closing argument that the four boys mistook Richter's touches as something more sinister than the hugs or pats on the back that he intended.

Howard picked at the boys' accounts, suggesting they had been inconsistent. He noted that none of the boys alleged that Richter had touched them when they would go in for one-on-one after-school sessions.

Howard said the allegations were the product of an “avalanche” of biased information about Richter — from news media, parents, police. He questioned how plausible it was that Richter would intentionally molest children in front of a classroom.

“These memories that the kids have — they're not strong memories,” Howard said. “They're incidental touches.”

Prosecutors Beth Beninato and Amy Jacobsen told the jury that Richter's actions were intentional, not incidental.

They noted that three boys, ages 8 to 11, testified that Richter had touched their penises over their clothing — and two of those said he did so more than 10 times over the course of a couple of years.

A fourth boy testified that Richter had rubbed his buttocks numerous times over a couple years as well. That boy's testimony was similar to the account of a 40-year-old man who testified that Richter had rubbed his buttocks when Richter was his fifth-grade teacher at a Council Bluffs elementary school in the early 1980s.

Beninato questioned how plausible it was that four boys — and an adult male — would make up allegations against Richter. The boys had not seen any news reports before they came forward, Beninato said.

Jacobsen said there was a simple reason Richter preferred touching children in front of a full classroom rather than during one-on-one sessions: the thrill.

“This was classic groping,” she said. “Take a quick little grope and move on.

“It's why it took these kids a little while to figure out what he was doing. They didn't understand it.”

Contact the writer: Todd Cooper    |   402-444-1275

Todd covers courts and legal issues for The World-Herald.

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