She lumbered up to the witness stand Tuesday, wearing a hoodie and looking like she wanted to be anywhere but in court.
She squinted her eyes into a near scowl.
A Douglas County prosecutor asked the teenager if she wanted to be in court testifying against the man she says she had a relationship with — former OPS middle school teacher Shad Knutson.
“Objection,” Public Defender Tom Riley said. “Irrelevant.''
The girl piped up.
“How's that irrelevant?” she asked.
Prosecutors say it is entirely relevant. The teen's reluctance is what makes her real, prosecutors say, and perhaps their most powerful witness in the case against the man accused of child abuse, sexual contact and enticement with four former Nathan Hale Middle School students.
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In sometimes-testy testimony, the girl described the confusing and conflicting emotions of forbidden love.
Her testimony demonstrated the damage wrought by illicit relationships between adult and child. The girl, who was 14 when the relationship started, minced no words about her feelings for Knutson. She said she was “in love” with Knutson from ninth through 10th grade.
“I had feelings for Shad,” she said. “And I announced them for him.”
What kind of feelings?
“Physically. Mentally. Anything. Everything.”
Prosecutors say the 36-year-old man, meanwhile, was lusting after this girl, like he had others.
Her testimony — full of clipped sentences and questions — stood in stark contrast to the length, and depth, of her relationship with Knutson.
Even after moving onto high school, the teenager said, she went back to Nathan Hale at least twice a week as a freshman and sophomore. Sometimes, she needed help with history. Sometimes she just wanted to talk.
Soon they held hands.
She painted herself as the instigator. The girl, then 15, said she's the one who asked to exchange cellphone numbers, to hold hands, to kiss, to have sexual contact.
“I am the aggressor in this,” she said. “I didn't want him to get in trouble. I feel like I shouldn't be here. I wanted to be in a relationship with him. I'm not saying he did anything that I didn't approve of.”
Under state law, she didn't have the ability to approve, prosecutors say. Knutson faces his most serious charge in connection with the last victim: sexual assault by use of electronic communication device.
That law makes it illegal for anyone to “knowingly solicit, coax, entice or lure a child 16 years of age or younger by means of an electronic communication device.”
Prosecutors say Knutson's cellphone worked overtime with the girl. As they closed their case — Knutson is expected to testify in his defense today — prosecutors unveiled several charts showing thousands of phone contacts between Knutson and the girl.
The number of contacts in 2010: 26,986.
Of those, Knutson called or texted the girl 13,789 times. The girl called or texted “Mr. Knutson” 13,197 times. Those contacts occurred at all hours of the day — 8 p.m., midnight, 3 a.m., 4 a.m., 9 a.m., noon.
And notably, prosecutors say, Knutson had more phone contacts with this girl than with all of his other acquaintances combined in 2010. Three thousand more.
Both Knutson and the girl tried to minimize those staggering numbers.
An OPS human resources administrator said Knutson told him that he may have texted the girl three or four times that year.
The girl, meanwhile, was reluctant to detail their conversations. She brushed aside prosecutors' questions by saying, “We talked about normal stuff. How our day was. Stuff like that.”
When pressed, however, she acknowledged that they talked about sexual matters, including “taking it to the next level,” “making love.”
On top of the phone contacts, prosecutors believe she minimized how much physical contact the two had.
She testified that she and Knutson kissed six times — in his classroom after school. He felt her breasts over her clothes fewer times than that, she said. They also touched each other's genitalia. She said they would do so along a wall where no one could walk past and see them through Knutson's class door.
Prosecutor Molly Keane pressed the girl on whether they talked about sex on the phone — a key to the enticement charge. At first, she insisted they only talked about sex in person.
She eventually relented.
“Yes, I guess,” she said. “We both decided to agree to take it to the next level.”
“I told him I loved him,” she said.
Did she consider them boyfriend-girlfriend?
“Were we? Were we not?” the girl said. “You can ask him if we were or not.”
She gazed at Knutson, grabbed a tissue box and quietly dabbed away tears.
By late October 2010, a concerned parent called authorities, and police began an investigation into other allegations.
Soon after, Knutson stopped calling, the girl testified Tuesday.
The girl said she figured he was in another relationship. She said she read in the newspaper that he had obtained a marriage license.
Did that make you mad?
“A little heartbroken,” she said solemnly.
Finally, Knutson called. She said he gave her a different reason for cutting off contact.
“Brain cancer,” she said.
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