Negative impact' is a gross understatement. It's more like a grenade went off and we're trying to hold the tatters together. —Benjamin Heiner
UTAH STATE PRISON — "I am so sorry for what I did to my victim," a soft spoken Stephen Niedzwiecki said Tuesday. "I won't be able to say I'm sorry enough."
Despite his words of remorse, Benjamin Heiner said his entire family is still trying to cope with the harm the now 35-year-old Niedzwiecki caused to his sister.
"'Negative impact' is a gross understatement," he said. "It's more like a grenade went off and we're trying to hold the tatters together."
In January of 2014, Niedzwiecki 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, all third-degree felonies, for sexually abusing Jamie Heiner for about a year. He received the maximum 20-year sentence.
On Tuesday, Niedzwiecki went before the a member of the Utah State Board of Pardons and Parole for his initial parole hearing.
Niedzwiecki held several positions of trust over Jamie Heiner, who was 15 when the abuse began. He was her teacher and basketball coach at Jefferson Academy, a charter school in Kaysville.
Heiner has spoken publicly about the case because she said she doesn't want to be labeled as a victim, and she wants to use her experience to encourage other survivors to speak out.
During Tuesday's parole hearing, Niedzwiecki told board member Clark Harms how in 2010 he was going through a divorce and his mother was dying of cancer. When he met Jamie Heiner, he said, he "needed someone to talk to."
Niedzwiecki befriended the girl's father and the rest of her family. He eventually was invited to their house for Easter dinner. He admitted Tuesday that, looking back on that time now, he was grooming the family to abuse their daughter.
"I was pushing boundaries I never knew existed, didn't think about at the time," he said. "I started sexually abusing my victim that summer."
Niedzwiecki indicated that by December of 2011, he asked the girl's parents if he could date her.
"It was terrible mistake. It hurt me so much to think about what I must have done to convince them," he said.
But when it was Benjamin Heiner's turn to speak, he wanted to make it clear that the family in no way endorsed what Niedzwiecki did. The family has previously said the parents did not give him permission to date the girl.
"He used the best parts of (our family) to get what he wanted," Benjamin Heiner said. "They invited him in as a family member, not as a potential suitor for their 14-year-old child."
Niedzwiecki held his head low as he listened to Heiner read a letter written by his sister for the parole board. She described how her innocence and childhood was taken from her in the course of a year, and how Niedzwiecki psychologically manipulated her.
"It was a calculated grooming and rape," Jamie Heiner wrote. "He wore many hats to get inside my head.
"I went from an innocent 14-year-old girl to a 16-year-old girl that could barely keep it together," wrote Heiner, who said she now lives out of state because she said there were still too many things in Utah that triggered her post-traumatic stress disorder
Heiner used phrases like "roller coaster of terror" when describing the "daily sexual abuse" she incurred. Originally, she said she thought she would remain silent and keep the pain to herself so as not to bring hurt and humiliation to her family.
But after she saw Niedzwiecki start to groom another potential victim, she decided to speak up.
"I saw how easily he could turn on the charm, manipulating those around him," she wrote. "He would have no trouble finding another victim.
"I do not believe he is sorry for his crimes. I believe he is sorry he got caught. He is sorry he didn't manipulate me better," Heiner wrote. "There's no doubt in my mind he will have another victim."
Jamie went on to write that based on conversations she had with Niedzwiecki, she believes he has had a sexual addiction his entire life and a "thirst for power." She ended her letter by saying she was not writing to get revenge, but to prevent him from sexually abusing another girl.
"My justice is not having to engage in sexual activity with someone 17 years my elder on a constant basis," she wrote.
Niedzwiecki, in a soft voice, then read his own letter to the parole board, stating that he had learned a lot since undergoing therapy while in prison.
"The fact I could blame a teenager or her family for these acts is despicable to me," he said. "I am devastated by my sexual abuse of her. I pray nightly for her."
Harms told Niedzwiecki that there are certain sex offender treatment programs he needs to complete before he can even be considered for parole. He said the full board would likely set another parole hearing to check on his progress, but would not set a release date at this time.
If Niedzwiecki were to serve his entire sentence, he would be released in 2034.
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