The two boys, ages 10 and 11, were in the last place they wanted to be on the first day of school.
In a courtroom, testifying against their former teacher, Nicholas K. Richter, as he stands trial on four counts of sexual assault by touching.
Eyeballing their teacher for the first time since his arrest, the boys were stoic and as straightforward as the laces on their back-to-school shoes.
Then a prosecutor asked one of the boys to show how “Mr. Richter” touched the boy's private area.
The boy started to demonstrate.
“He would grab it like this, I guess,” the 11-year-old said. “We'd be mostly working on our work. . .And we would have him check our problems. . .And, yeah. . .”
The boy crumbled into tears.
“I'm sorry,” he said, his voice cracking.
It was a heartwrenching start to the weeklong trial of Richter.
The trial — taking place against the backdrop of the first week of school for many students in the Omaha area — provided its share of contrasts. A longtime teacher accused of being a toucher. Two bright boys — two more are expected to testify later in the week — testifying about something very dark.
Prosecutors Beth Beninato and Amy Jacobsen say Richter repeatedly touched four students in their private areas and buttocks, over their clothing, in the front of his classroom. If convicted after the weeklong trial, Richter, 59, would face up to five years in prison on each of the four counts.
Richter's attorneys, Joseph Howard and Ashley Trankle, say their client was a talented educator who traveled the Ralston School District, teaching math and reading to honors students.
“The evidence is going to show that Mr. Richter is a very hands-on teacher,” Howard said. “He is a teacher who shows his students affection.”
The question for the nine women and three men of the jury: Just how hands on was he?
Howard asked jurors to scrutinize how the students could have been touched in the groin in front of a full classroom — with no other student witnessing it. Howard said Richter's touches were confined to shoulder rubs or pats to the small of the back. Though some students cringed at Richter putting his hands on them, Howard said, the touches were not sexual in any way.
Beninato said the students will testify otherwise. The boys, ranging in age from 7 to 10, described a similar pattern from Richter. The students would be working on assignments, their heads down at their desks.
They would go up, one at a time, to have Richter check their work. As he leaned against his desk, he would touch their groin over their clothing.
This went on for months, Beninato said.
In fact, Beninato said, prosecutors will call a long-ago student to testify to similar behavior.
The man, now in his 30s, will describe that Richter did the same to him when the man was an elementary student in Council Bluffs 25 years ago. Because of the statute of limitations, Richter is not charged with sexual assault in connection with that case.
However, the man will be called as a witness under a law that allows testimony about a defendant's behavior if the behavior is similar to the current charges.
“This is a case about opportunity, vulnerability and secrets,” Beninato said.
Those secrets began to be exposed after a school official heard a playground argument between two boys. In April 2012, two 9-year-old boys were chiding each other. One was talking about the other's reading ability.
The other shot back: “At least my teacher doesn't touch me.”
Hearing the argument, playground supervisor Georgia Comstock, 21, immediately took one of the boys aside and asked about the touching comment. She then went to a school counselor, who went to the principal.
An investigation was launched that resulted in charges against Richter.
The first of Richter's alleged victims took the stand Tuesday. Wearing tennis shoes, blue jeans and a striped shirt, he said he thought Richter was nice.
He matter of factly described how he would be working on a math problem when Richter would call him up.
“If I got it right, I would either get Skittles or sit on his lap,” the boy testified.
When he sat on Richter's lap, the boy testified, Richter would grab his penis over his clothes. It happened in second, third and fourth grade, the boy said.
“Do you think it was an accident?” Beninato asked.
“No,” the boy said.
Beninato: Did it happen more than once, more than five times, more than 10?
“Yes,” both boys said.
Earlier, Beninato asked the 10-year-old when his first day of school is.
“It should be today,” he said quietly, “but I'm going tomorrow.”