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Former teacher, coach pleads guilty in sex abuse case

By Whitney Evans | Posted - Jan 23rd, 2014 @ 10:50pm

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FARMINGTON — A former teacher and basketball coach faces up to 20 years in prison and $20,000 in fines for unlawful sexual activity and conduct with a minor.

That doesn't go far enough for the victim of the crimes, who said she believes Stephen Niedzwiecki deserves a life sentence.

“I thought I was finally safe. I thought that my voice had been heard and that justice would be served, but I was wrong,” Jaime Heiner, 17, said Thursday in 2nd District Court.

Niedzwiecki, 34, Heiner's former teacher and basketball coach at Jefferson Academy, a charter school in Kaysville, 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.

Heiner could be heard weeping as Judge Michael G. Allphin explained that Niedzwiecki would remain out on bail until the March 21 sentencing, to continue his sex offender therapy and complete a psychosexual evaluation.

"This man tainted three years of my life — three years I can never get back," Heiner said after the hearing.

The prosecution determined that a jury could not reasonably convict Niedzwiecki of being in a position of trust over Heiner and reduced charges from eight counts of forcible sodomy, a first-degree felony; one count of attempted rape, a first-degree felony; and two counts of forcible sexual abuse, a second-degree felony.

Niedzwiecki's attorney previously argued whether her client was actually in a position of special trust, saying the relationship took place when Niedzwiecki was no longer Heiner's teacher or coach.

Heiner and her father, Brent Heiner, both lamented the reduced charges and the law that would not find Niedzwiecki in a position of trust. Jaime Heiner said she plans on working with state legislators to change the wording of the law regarding people in positions of trust over students.

This man tainted three years of my life — three years I can never get back.

–Jamie Heiner

Brent Heiner said the case "opened the floodgates for pedophiles" to select and condition a victim for the end of a school year.

Prosecutors said Niedzwiecki groomed Heiner while he was her teacher 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, and their relationship escalated to sexual acts by the end of summer 2011, prosecutors said.

Heiner's voice choked with emotion Thursday as she explained it was her first relationship and that she did not realize what was going on "until it was too late."

"I felt trapped after (one of the first sex acts)," Heiner testified in May. "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."

According to Brent Heiner, Niedzwiecki lied to their family and "exploited" them, his daughter and their faith.

“As her teacher, he gained great trust over Jaime and us,” he said.

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The relationship lasted from May 2011 until fall 2012, just after the announcement by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that women could serve missions for the church at 19 years old.

The change in the age requirement and a suspicion that Niedzwiecki had singled out another minor girl spurred the teen to meet with her LDS bishop. The bishop involved authorities.

Jaime Heiner has since become involved in organizations that seek to put a stop to child sex abuse, including Prevent Child Abuse Utah and Backyard Broadcast. She is also starting her own nonprofit organization called "I Am."

Heiner reminded others in similar situations that they are not alone, and their circumstances do not define them.

"No matter what happens, you have people who love you," she said.

Heiner said she is done being a victim and is focused on being a survivor.

"You are a survivor," her attorney, Heidi Nestel, told her after the hearing.


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