Victim feels betrayed by plea deal for coach in Kaysville sex abuse

Jan 24 2014 - 11:21pm

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Stephen Paul Niedzwiecki
Stephen Paul Niedzwiecki

FARMINGTON -- A teenage girl and her family are upset with a plea deal that reduced first-degree felonies to third-degree felonies because she was not the man's student when the sexual abuse began.

"I feel betrayed," said Jaime Heiner, who is 17 years old. 

The Standard-Examiner usually does not identified the victims of sexual abuse. Jaime and her parents have agreed to allow her name to be used in news stories.

Jaime, who is attending Weber State University, said after the hearing on Friday that the charges Stephen Paul Niedzwiecki pleaded guilty to were "a disappointment."

Jaime said she plans to work with legislators this session to draft a bill that would make it a first-degree felony for a teacher to have a sexual relationship with former students. She is currently volunteering her time with several organizations that help children who have been abused. 

Niedzwiecki, 34, of Kaysville, was a basketball coach at Jefferson Academy in Kaysville, where Jaime attended school and played on the basketball team.  He also tutored her in 2011.

Niedzwiecki entered guilty pleas to four third-degree felonies, two counts of unlawful sexual activity with a minor and two counts of unlawful sexual activity with a 16-17-year old. 

Jaime and her parents had asked Judge Michael Allphin at the beginning of the hearing not to accept the plea deal.

"I feel completely victimized all over again," Jaime said in court. "I didn't have a chance ...I didn't know what was happening until it was too late."

Allphin accepted the guilty pleas after he took a recess to review the case, as well as a recent Utah Supreme Court ruling. Allphin said when he returned to the courtroom he would accept the pleas not only because of the ruling but because the Davis County Attorney's Office had filed amended charges with the court that reduced the number of charges and the severity of the charges. 

"The special trust is no longer an element," Allphin said. 

He went on to say, "The court acknowledges the victim, but it cannot refuse the plea with the amended information that has been filed." 

Allphin set the sentencing hearing for March 21. Niedzwiecki is facing a prison sentence on each count of up to five years.

Niedzwiecki was originally charged with eight counts of forcible sodomy, one count of attempted rape, all first-degree felonies; and two counts of forcible sexual abuse, second-degree felonies. The first-degree felonies had the potential of life sentences. 

Jaime told police in 2012 that Niedzwiecki had been sexually abusing her after she finished ninth grade in 2011. The relationship continued until the fall of 2012. 

"Going in today I thought there would be justice, and there wasn't," she said.

Deputy Davis County Attorney Cristina Ortega said in court one of the reasons for the change of plea is because of a recent Utah Supreme Court ruling.

The Supreme Court redefined what constitutes a special position of trust, Ortega said. If an adult who is a teacher has a sexual relationship with a minor who is not a student he cannot be charged with a first-degree felony.

Ortega also said that besides the court ruling, she and a team in her office looked at all the facts in the case and determined it would not be able to convince a jury to convict Niedzwiecki on the 11 counts. 

Heidi Nestel, Jaime's attorney and victim advocate, said in court even though prosecutors had been open with the Heiner family about the plea negotiations, "nevertheless, the victim and her family strongly disagree with this plea negotiation." Nestel also said that Niedzwiecki did exercise undue authority over the girl because he had been her teacher and should plead to the original charges. Nestel said Niedzwiecki had "groomed" Jaime during the school year so when summer came he was able to proceed with a sexual relationship.

Nestel disagreed with Ortega and told the judge there is enough evidence to go forward with a trial.

County Attorney Troy Rawlings issued a statement after court concerning the case, saying "Cristina Ortega is correct on the facts and the law. Heidi Nestel is wrong." 

He said Nestel, acting as a victim advocate, does not have all the evidence in the case.

"We actually have to prove what we charge, beyond a reasonable doubt, to a unanimous jury," Rawlings wrote. 

Scott Williams, one of Niedzwiecki's attorneys, said his client is taking full responsibility for what he did. Williams also said in court that the defense had planned to bring expert witnesses that "would have unsavory information" about the victim. 

At the time of his arrest, Niedzwiecki was teaching at Quest Academy and was also an adjunct anthropology professor at Weber State University. He is no longer teaching at either facility, officials said.

Contact reporter Loretta Park at 801-625-4252 or lpark@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @LorettaParkSE. 

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