Mormon missionary age announcement prompted teen to reveal alleged abuse from coach

Published: Wednesday, May 15 2013 11:35 a.m. MDT

Stephen Paul Niedzwiecki, 33, of Bountiful, was ordered Tuesday to stand trial for 11 felonies stemming from an alleged sexual relationship with a student beginning when she was 15. He was a teacher and basketball coach at Jefferson Academy in Kaysville.

Davis County Jail

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FARMINGTON — The first time the girl said she and her teacher kissed was at the end of her ninth-grade school year.

Stephen Paul Niedzwiecki, 33, later told her that it had been his goal to kiss her by the end of summer 2011, she testified Tuesday in 2nd District Court. She said he later found it funny how far he had gone with the then-15-year-old when the summer ended, given his initial goal.

The former teacher and basketball coach at Jefferson Academy was ordered to stand trial Tuesday on eight counts of forcible sodomy, a first-degree felony, two counts of forcible sexual abuse and attempted rape, second-degree felonies. Judge Michael Allphin made the decision after evidence against Niedzwiecki was presented in a preliminary hearing.

Prosecutor Cristina Ortega said she planned to amend the attempted rape charge to a first-degree felony.

The girl said she "looked up to" her teacher and that she asked him to help with a project. Soon they were talking via email, text messages, phone calls and in person. She said she played disc golf with him and went to see his band play.

But the relationship was also physical and escalated to sexual acts that took place throughout Davis County, including Bountiful, Farmington Canyon and Kaysville.

"I felt trapped after (one of the first sex acts)," the alleged victim testified. "I felt no one else would ever want me. He said he would marry me and he would share his parents' half-million-dollar inheritance with me and we would live a charmed life."

She said her parents knew the man as her teacher, but said Niedzwiecki began asking about her faith, prompting the family to invite him over as an investigator of their church. She said he eventually asked them for permission to date her, but they weren't comfortable given the age difference.

She said they knew about the talks of marriage, but didn't approve. She eventually started looking for a way out.

The relationship spanned from May 2011 until just after The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced in 2012 that women wanting to serve a mission could do so at a younger age. It was that announcement, and a fear that Niedzwiecki was targeting another young girl, that prompted the alleged victim to meet with her LDS bishop.

"(Niedzwiecki) had convinced me I was going to marry him and I decided going on a mission would be a good out because he wouldn't wait that long," the girl said.

Her bishop contacted police, and she met with them soon after.

Defense attorney Cara Tangaro questioned whether Niedzwiecki was actually in a position of special trust, arguing that the relationship took place when Niedzwiecki was no longer the girl's teacher or coach. She pointed to a decision handed down by the Utah Supreme Court last week, which requires evidence that someone in a position of special trust was able to use that position to "exercise undue influence."

Tangaro also said the relationship seemed to be "completely out in the open" and asked that the judge reduce the charges to unlawful sexual activity with a 16-or 17-year-old.

Ortega disagreed, citing the girl's young age and countering that Niedzwiecki was her teacher when they met and had, in fact, exercised undue influence over the girl in his teaching position. She said she didn't think the high court's ruling would impact the case against Niedzwiecki.

"The (alleged victim) was clear from beginning to end that this involved a lot of pestering … and I think you could say manipulation," the prosecutor said. "She did what she could to please this person she saw as a mentor."

Kathy Carver, a relative of the alleged victim, said the case has been devastating for their family. She said Niedzwiecki was often at family events and holidays.

"He wanted so much to be part of the family," she said. "We feel so betrayed and completely disappointed, betrayed by his manipulation. (The alleged victim's family) opened their hearts and their homes (to him)."

She said the alleged victim came forward to try to prevent anyone else from becoming a victim. The girl has since become involved in organizations that seek to put a stop to child sex abuse.

"She's a strong teenager and we are so proud of her and her decision to come forward," Carver said. "Bad things happen, but you can turn it into something good, and that's what she's hoping to do."

Email: emorgan@deseretnews.com, Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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