TWIN FALLS, Idaho (AP) — A south-central Idaho teacher who told police he had sex with a girl he knew to be underage has been found not guilty of rape.
Twin Falls County Prosecuting Attorney Grant Loebs said the jury's decision on Wednesday to find 40-year-old Jason Benjamin not guilty of raping the teenager "staggering."
"I've never seen anything like it," Loebs said.
The jury foreman told The Times-News that the 12-member panel unanimously concluded the sex was consensual and did not meet their definition of rape because Benjamin did not physically force himself on the girl.
Benjamin was charged with rape under an Idaho law that applies when the victim is 16 or 17 years old, and the perpetrator is at least three years older. The jury was shown a video of Benjamin telling a police detective that he had sex with the girl he knew to be 17 at the time.
The jury deliberated about two hours before returning the not guilty verdict.
"Juries are never supposed to decide whether the law is wise or unwise," Loebs said. "They are to decide whether the facts prove that the law was violated."
Benjamin and the teenage girl didn't testify.
Benjamin taught at a local high school from 2009 to 2017. He was arrested in December after the 17-year-old former student told police she and Benjamin had sex in October. Benjamin was no longer teaching at the high school at the time of the allegations, but the girl was still a student.
The girl said the two connected on Facebook and she sent him a friend request. She said Benjamin invited her to his apartment several times in October, and they had sex during one of those visits. Benjamin confirmed the girl's account of events to police.
Benjamin, in the videotaped interview with police, said he knew having sex with a minor was wrong, but he was afraid she would tell others about their relationship if he said no to her
Defense attorney Doug Nelson didn't dispute that Benjamin had sex with an underage girl. But he told jurors to use their "life experiences" and "common sense" in deciding the verdict.
"I know that when this case is over, you guys are going to go back there and do the right thing, have the courage to do the correct thing," Nelson told the jury.
Twin Falls County Deputy Prosecutor Suzanne Ehlers told jurors not to let sympathy play a part in their decision.
"You've got to follow the law, regardless of what your personal thought of it is," she said.