I see myself as a survivor. Because victim is a word that gives him power over me where survivor is a word that gives me that power. —Jaime Heiner
FARMINGTON — The courtroom waited in silence as Judge Michael G. Allphin decided how to sentence a man who sexually abused one of his former students.
The 2nd District judge said he had to consider the “gravity and circumstances” surrounding Stephen Paul Niedzwiecki’s actions. Although Niedzwiecki admitted to sexually abusing Jaime Heiner, now 18, he continued to shift blame to Heiner and her parents, Allphin said.
“These actions point to the defendant having a character flaw,” the judge said, before sentencing Niedzwiecki, 34, to four consecutive terms of zero to five years in prison.
Defense attorneys had argued for concurrent terms, given Niedzwiecki’s treatment and willingness to admit to the crime. Allphin did not agree with their conclusions.
Heiner smiled, glancing at her attorney, and then broke into tears after hearing the sentence. Her father pulled her into a hug.
In her statements to the court, Heiner said she was “emotionally exhausted and ready for closure.” Niedzwiecki was “lazy, manipulative and narcissistic,” she said, and asked the judge to impose consecutive sentences.
"Steve knew exactly what he was doing from the very beginning,” she said.
Although the Deseret News does not typically name victims of sex abuse, Heiner has spoken publicly about the incidents because she said she doesn't want to be considered a victim.
"I see myself as a survivor. Because victim is a word that gives him power over me where survivor is a word that gives me that power,” she said after the hearing.
Niedzwiecki looked down as she spoke to the court. He kept his comments to the court brief, asking for mercy so he could continue counseling and the repentance process in his church.
“There is nothing that I can say that can change the actions, the things that I have done,” Niedzwiecki said.
He said he was "disgusted with the acts that I have committed and I am disgusted with myself for having committed them" and he “longed for the opportunity to tell (the Heiners) how sorry I am." He said he still loves the Heiner family.
The family and prosecutors, however, were unconvinced.
"That was incredibly offensive because I don't believe that you can do that to somebody that you love," Heiner said after the sentencing.
Her attorney, Heidi Nestel, told the court that Niedzwiecki only had access to Heiner because he was first her teacher.
“He infiltrated this family. He slowly over a period of time gained their trust, reassured them, told them what they needed to hear, all the while sexually abusing their daughter,” she said.
Niedzwiecki was Heiner's teacher and basketball coach at Jefferson Academy, a charter school in Kaysville. Niedzwiecki groomed Heiner by offering her unearned extra credit, including her on special projects, saying inappropriate things and touching her on the leg and in other improper ways.
Niedzwiecki kissed Heiner by the end of her freshman year in high school when she was 15, and their relationship escalated to sexual acts by the end of summer 2011. The relationship lasted from May 2011 until fall 2012.
A suspicion that Niedzwiecki had singled out another girl spurred the teen to meet with her LDS bishop. The bishop involved authorities.
Heiner said she moved her mattress to the floor of her parent's bedroom for months after she told them what had happened. "I couldn't be alone. My thoughts were just too painful," she said.
She still cannot go to bed earlier than 1 a.m. on most nights because she is "terrified of what he'll do to me in my dreams," she said.
The charges were reduced in January from eight counts of forcible sodomy, a first-degree felony; attempted rape, a first-degree felony; and two counts of forcible sexual abuse, a second-degree felony, because the prosecution determined that a jury could not reasonably convict Niedzwiecki of being in a position of trust over Heiner.
Niedzwiecki later pleaded guilty to two counts of unlawful sexual activity with a minor and two counts of unlawful sexual conduct with a 16- or 17-year-old, third-degree felonies.
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