Four alleged victims of former Omaha Public Schools teacher Shad Knutson can confront him at one trial, a judge has ruled.
Douglas County District Judge Duane Dougherty rejected a defense motion to sever the girls' allegations into at least four different trials. The judge noted that Knutson is alleged to have committed the same pattern of behavior with each girl — all of whom were students at the middle school where Knutson taught.
Dougherty set Knutson's trial for February. He has pleaded not guilty to seven counts: attempted first-degree sexual assault, soliciting a child by use of a communication device, two counts of child abuse and three counts of third-degree sexual assault involving touching.
If convicted, Knutson, 35, faces up to 125 years in prison.
Prosecutors allege that the former Nathan Hale Middle School teacher groomed four female students, ages 13 to 15, in inappropriate relationships. Chief Deputy Douglas County Attorney Brenda Beadle says he begged some of the girls to send him lewd pictures and groped other girls.
And he had a more intense, inappropriate relationship with one of the girls — exchanging more than 10,000 phone calls and text messages in just 10 months, authorities allege.
From January 2010 through November 2010, prosecutors say, Knutson and the girl often “made out” in his classroom after school. He kissed the girl, fondled her breasts and asked her to have sex with him at least five times, prosecutors say.
Knutson's attorney, Douglas County Public Defender Tom Riley, said he would file a motion asking a judge to throw out police searches that led to the seizure of Knutson's cellphone and text messages.
In rejecting Riley's motion to sever the cases, the judge noted several similarities: that Knutson's alleged victims attended the same school; that Knutson held a position of authority over them; and that many of the incidents are alleged to have occurred in Knutson's classroom.
“The defendant said many of the same things to the alleged victims to gain their trust, including statements that they are beautiful and sexy,” Dougherty wrote. “(He) allegedly made each of them feel that they were a special student and in addition often provided special treatment.”
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