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Former students, colleagues rally behind accused WF teacher

FARGO--Colleagues and former students are rallying behind Aaron Knodel and asking the state attorney general's office not to retry felony charges against the 2014 North Dakota Teacher of the Year accused of sexual contact with a student in 2009.

West Fargo teacher Aaron Knodel listens to closing arguments in his trial Monday, April 27, 2015, in district court, Fargo. Forum file photo

FARGO-Colleagues and former students are rallying behind Aaron Knodel and asking the state attorney general's office not to retry felony charges against the 2014 North Dakota Teacher of the Year accused of sexual contact with a student in 2009.

A letter-writing campaign is circulating on social media that outlines how to ask Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem's office to not request a mistrial or pursue further charges against the West Fargo teacher.

The campaign letter titled "Please join us" said, "It is time for teachers to unite and voice their displeasure with how the state plans to proceed."

On Monday, The Forum obtained copies of more than 34 individual emails sent to the attorney general's office Friday and Monday supporting Knodel. Authors included West Fargo School District teachers and staff, Knodel's former students, friends and family.

Knodel Letters


"I am writing to ask you to accept the unofficial not guilty verdict in Aaron Knodel's trial," teacher Amy Jacobson wrote. "This case has cost the state thousands of dollars and copious resources. It is time that Aaron and his family get the opportunity to move past this horrific event."

"I feel so bad that this incident has taken one of the best out of the classroom," wrote teacher Betty Reyerson. "I really miss seeing him at school."

West Fargo Superintendent David Flowers said Monday that there is nothing in school policy to prohibit staff from writing Stenehjem about the Knodel case.

Some authors of the emails sent to Stenehjem's office were from "concerned citizens" and others were from former students.

Defense Attorney Robert Hoy said he received a call Friday from a teacher asking how they could show support for Knodel. Hoy directed the caller to Stenehjem's office, but did not encourage the campaign. On Monday, he said was unaware of the swelling support for his client.

Former student Bree Keller said many other students were sharing how to support Knodel by contacting the attorney general's office.

"Mr. Knodel had contacted a few of his past students who had been following his trial and let us know you can feel free to email the attorney general to share our thoughts," Keller said. "I knew there was a lot of support in the community for Mr. Knodel. So many people know what a great person he is and they wanted to be able to share that with the attorney general and help him see that side of Mr. Knodel."

Most of the emails said continuing to prosecute the case is "a waste of taxpayer money" and urged the attorney general not to put Knodel or his family through another trial.


"Please, please, do not allow this case to be declared a mistrial so we can waste taxpayer money and likely will end up with the same results as the current jury members have," Leah Staahl wrote in an email to Stenehjem. "What a shame to take precious state dollars in addition to the financial and emotional hardship to the Knodel family."

Knodel, 36, was charged with five felony counts of corruption or solicitation of a minor in August. On Wednesday, the third day of deliberations after a five-day trial that began on April 21, one of the jurors was taken to the hospital. There, she told Cass County sheriff's deputies that she was the sole holdout for a unanimous not guilty verdict on all counts and that she had lied during jury selection when she said she was not a victim of sexual abuse.

Cass County District Judge Steven McCullough polled the jurors Wednesday. The eight women and five-man jury found Knodel not guilty of counts one and two, which were the two Class B felony charges for alleged sexual acts in his classroom, and one of the Class C charges.

They voted 11-1 to find him not guilty on the two remaining charges.

Juror Paul Linstad said jurors made an unofficial agreement that they wouldn't talk to media.

"The case is still ongoing and they don't know if they're going to have a mistrial or if the verdicts rendered will stand, so at this time I would prefer not to give you any comments," he said.

McCullough gave the prosecutor, state Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Byers, two weeks to request a mistrial on all charges or accept the three unanimous verdicts and request a mistrial on the remaining two. The state could also choose to dismiss the case.

"There's a lot of people with the same sentiment," Kendall Jones told The Forum. Jones wrote a letter in support of dropping the charges against Knodel. "I have nothing but the utmost respect for Knodel, and I think he's gotten the shaft."


Liz Brocker, a spokeswoman for Stenehjem's office, said prosecutorial decisions are legal matters, which her office does not discuss.

Hoy said he hopes Stenehjem and Byers will take the correspondence into consideration.

"They are lawyers, but they are also human beings," Hoy said. "I'm assuming they are thinking about that and weighing those things now."

He said he doesn't want the prosecution to pursue the case.

"With reflection and a chance to stop and think about where they are at, and what the verdict has told them about this case from the verdicts (the jury) returned, going forward isn't going to be useful," Hoy said. "It will be more of the same.

Knodel was suspended without pay by the school district after he was charged. The state licensing board has taken no action on his teaching license.

At least one email said Knodel should not have to remain on unpaid suspension from his job as an English teacher at West Fargo High School.

Flowers said he has not received any emails regarding Knodel's employment.


"[The Knodels] are very thankful to the many family, friends, colleagues, former students that have rallied to support them with well wishes during this whole episode," Hoy said.

Read more coverage of the Aaron Knodel trial here.

As the West Fargo editor, Wendy Reuer covers all things West Fargo for The Forum and oversees the production of the weekly Pioneer.
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