Sexual Assault Trial Starts For Ex-Teacher

A former middle school teacher accused of sexual assault is now on trial. Shad Knutson is charged with assaulting or abusing four girls while a social studies teacher at Nathan Hale Middle School in Omaha.

Knutson, now 36, entered Judge Dougherty's courtroom facing four counts of sexual assault of a child, two counts of child abuse and one count of soliciting another girl to have sex with him. The alleged incidents occurred in 2009 and 2010.

In opening statements, Deputy County Attorney Brenda Beadle spelled out a list of accusations. One girl, who was tutored at the school by Knutson, said she had a long-term relationship with the former teacher, which included kissing as well as touching breasts and genitals. She said when Knutson asked her to have sex with him she refused. Beadle said phone records indicate more than 25,000 calls and texts between the two over a nine-month period.

Defense attorney Tom Riley, in his opening statement, said the initial accusations were false, but just continued to grow out of control. He told the jury, "What they have is now a ball that started going down a hill and took on a life of its own."

The first witness to take the stand was a 16-year-old girl who said while she was an eighth-grader at Nathan Hale, Knutson touched her breasts more than once while he was reaching across his desk. She also told the court that another time Knutson took a pen from her hand, put it next to his groin area and told her to grab it.

During cross examination, Riley pointed out that the witness did not report either accusation in her initial written statement to school administrators. He also pointed out that there were no other witnesses to either incident, even though they occurred in a classroom full of students.

According to the witnesses, Knutson was a very popular teacher among students. Because of the number of victims testifying in this case, prosecutors expect the trial to last several weeks.

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