State asks judge to dismiss Knodel case, adding 'views expressed ... set the cause of sexual abuse reporting back three decades'
Prosecutors say the media, some members of the public and even the judge slowed their decision to ask that the case against teacher Aaron Knodel be dismissed.
FARGO - Prosecutors say the media, some members of the public and even the judge slowed their decision to ask that the case against teacher Aaron Knodel be dismissed.
In a motion to dismiss the remaining two charges against the 2014 North Dakota Teacher of the Year accused of having sex with a former student in 2009, state Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Byers said that while concern was shown for Knodel, the court failed to take into consideration the damage caused to Knodel’s accuser.
“The young woman in this case has been treated horribly unfair by the letter-writing campaign and online bloggers,” Byers wrote in the brief filed Thursday. “Some of the views being expressed in the letters and to the media have set the cause of sexual abuse reporting back three decades. Our young people watch all of this and quietly take it all in.”
The former student said Thursday evening that she had “no comment at this time.”
The Forum typically does not identify alleged victims of sexual abuse.
Byers said that while he and another prosecutor had always leaned toward a dismissal of the two remaining charges, the prosecution team felt like “cattle in a chute being driven towards a foregone conclusion at the point of a sharp stick.”
“Neither of the prosecutors involved have ever had a win-at-all-costs mentality,” Byers wrote.
Despite Byers’ request for more time before a second trial, Cass County District Court Judge Steven McCullough ordered it to start Tuesday.
“To set this case for retrial in just over two weeks, without any consultation with the parties about their prior scheduling, makes the stick seem sharp indeed,” Byers wrote
In Thursday’s motion, Byers blamed setbacks in the case on defense attorney Robert Hoy’s insistence on “trying the case in the media” and criticized McCullough for calling the state’s case “weak” in court documents where the media would report it.
Those comments “caused great pause and a need to reflect on the true nature of fundamental fairness and the interests of justice,” Byers wrote.
Byers also claimed that the public’s actions caused “more pause than forward movement.” He cited a letter-writing campaign where more than a dozen mostly West Fargo teachers and staff wrote to the attorney general’s office asking for a dismissal. The campaign included directions about how to write Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem asking him to request a mistrial.
Teachers and friends of Knodel’s, including West Fargo High School teacher Jeremy Murphy – who testified for the defense during the trial – also set up benefit funds for Knodel. A public fund is open at Gate City Bank, but an online fund at YouCaring.com was taken down after it was found to not be in accordance with the site’s rules, which state funding cannot be raised for legal fees.
Knodel, 36, was charged with three Class C felony counts of corruption or solicitation of a minor and two Class B felony counts of corruption of a minor, all linked to alleged sexual contact with the student. After a five-day trial in April, McCullough on June 4 upheld a jury’s three not-guilty verdicts and declared a mistrial of the two remaining charges.
Byers asked the court on Thursday to dismiss two charges against Knodel without prejudice, meaning the case won’t be recharged unless there is new evidence. Byers could not be reached for comment.
Knodel, a highly decorated West Fargo High School English teacher and academic coach, was suspended without pay from the West Fargo School District in August after he was placed on paid administrative leave in February while the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation investigated the allegations against him. The state licensing board has taken no action on his license.
School Superintendent David Flowers could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Knodel’s accuser said Thursday she did not know yet if she would file a civil suit over the allegations.
In April, Hoy said his client had not yet decided what his future would hold once the case was over, but the Knodel family was grateful for the overwhelming support they received from family, friends and the community.
Hoy could not be reached for comment Thursday evening.
The motion to dismiss the charges must be approved by a district court judge before the dismissal is final.
Readers can reach Forum reporter
Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530